Mitch McConnell: Both Hero and Goat to Religious Right

The American Family Association's Walker Wildmon (Image from AFA video promoting 2018 Values Voter Summit)

You would think that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose refusal to allow the Senate to even consider President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court allowed Trump to fill the vacancy with the far-right Neil Gorsuch, would be in the Religious Right’s pantheon of heroes—especially now that he has overseen a historic rush to fill appeals court seats with a record number of judges who meet the ideological purity test of the Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation. But McConnell is still too “establishment” for some Religious Right leaders, who are seemingly nursing a grudge over his opposition to the candidacy of failed Senate candidate Roy Moore and other candidates preferred by the party’s right-wing base.

Last week, AFA President Tim Wildmon started a video blog with a sort of grudging acknowledgment that McConnell was doing his part to push the embattled Brett Kavanaugh onto the high court:

Well, it isn’t often that I applaud Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, but I did find it refreshing the other night when he said what’s going on here with Judge Brett Kavanaugh is a smear campaign.

Just a week earlier, Wildmon’s son Walker, who works for his father, spoke at a Values Voter Summit luncheon sponsored by AFA’s governmental affairs affiliate. He said that if he had been in the main hall earlier in the day when McConnell was greeted by cheers, he, Walker, “probably would have booed him.”

Walker said dismissively that McConnell only showed up because it is an election year. And, he said, “no matter what he says on that stage and on TV, he is not a conservative.” Not only that, said Walker, “but he’s not a friend to conservatives.” McConnell’s record, he said, is “that of solely being out to defeat conservatives and candidates that you and I would support.”

Walker’s keynote speech at the lunch focused on what he called the four kinds of swamp creatures, one of which was the legislative branch. Among his complaints about the legislative branch were that it does not hold judges accountable for “stepping outside of their authority” in cases like Roe v Wade, and is not confirming Trump’s judicial nominees quickly enough. And for that he placed the blame on Republicans:

We finally get a president who is willing and has the boldness to elect constitutional conservatives to the federal bench and to the Supreme Court. We see the kind of frenzy that the left is in now that we’re gonna get a constitutionalist on the Supreme Court. They’re doing everything they can to stop Brett Kavanaugh.

But, he said, “the Republicans are slow-walking President Trump’s judicial nominees.” Republicans put the blame on Democratic obstruction, he said, but “at the end of the day, it’s the Republicans that are in charge of the Senate and the House and the White House.”

The Religious Right’s mixed feelings about McConnell were on display last year as well. In June 2017, Ralph Reed introduced McConnell at the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority Conference as “a gift to the United States of America” and “one of the most distinguished public servants who has served in the Senate in our lifetimes.” But just a few months later, at a Values Voter Summit whose tone was set by Steve Bannon, McConnell was vilified by Bannon as the emblem of “corporatists” in the Republic establishment against whom conservative activists were required to wage “war.”

Given that McConnell has become Trump’s partner in creating the kind of federal judiciary for which the Religious Right and its political allies have been dreaming and scheming for decades, McConnell could be forgiven for wondering just what it would take to please folks like the Wildmons.