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Juan Williams: McConnell teeters on the high wire

How long can Mitch McConnell stay up on that high wire? 

On his right, the Senate Minority Leader is juggling the prospect of another Trump campaign and a party bent on intensifying divisive social issues.

To his left, he is trying to get a grip on center-right suburban voters to regain his balance. But the suburbanites are running away, repulsed by the culture wars that excite his party’s base.  

McConnell described his predicament earlier this month by saying, “It’s no secret that we’ve lost ground in suburban areas.” 

He recently admitted to a desperate effort to reach suburban voters by backing a meager gun control bill.  

But violent crime is inextricably tied to easy access to guns — something McConnell’s party refuses to confront. In fact, even the wimpy recent bill was opposed by most of his Senate Republican conference. 

Huge majorities of Americans, including suburban voters, want real gun control, including background checks and total bans on the sale of assault weapons. 

McConnell is losing his political balance because he doesn’t want the midterms to be decided by Trump and right-wing culture war issues. He wants the midterms to be a referendum on President Biden.  

In the last few weeks, however, the political ground has shifted badly for McConnell. 

The findings of a New York Times/Siena College survey “suggest that the wave of mass shootings and the recent Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade have at least temporarily insulated the Democrats from an otherwise hostile national political environment while energizing the [Democrats’] predominantly liberal activist base,” the Times reported last week. 

Similar results were revealed by left-leaning pollsters Navigator Research after the May leak of the Supreme Court’s decision. 

The poll found “half of American believe Republicans are focused on the wrong things.”  

An earlier Navigator survey found voters shifting away from the GOP after being given “examples of culture war policies supported by Republicans, including book bans, restricting abortion rights, punishing companies that disagree with their views and more.”  

This means Republicans are increasingly vulnerable, according to Bryan Bennett, a pollster who advises Navigator, if Democrats “remind the public that the Republican Party is actively blocking a popular economic agenda from President Biden and Democrats in Congress while pushing deeply unfavorable and extreme positions on social issues.” 

Democrats currently have a prime example of the GOP’s misplaced focus. 

McConnell and his Senate Republicans are blocking a bill to lower prescription drug prices and extend subsidies for the Affordable Care Act. 

McConnell wants to deny Democrats the chance to take credit for helping Americans with a basic pocketbook issue. He is even willing to hold up a separate bill to improve U.S. competitiveness against China on the production of semiconductor chips in order to stop the bill to cut drug costs. 

This is a repeat of the obstruction strategy used by McConnell to block President Obama’s legislative agenda. 

But this time, McConnell is the one being unbalanced because he needs suburban voters in swing states across the nation this fall. Those voters will likely decide competitive Senate races in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Wisconsin, Nevada and Arizona. 

Meanwhile, Trump is hinting he will soon announce a new campaign for president.  

The media storm around that prospective campaign will make the midterms even less about President Biden and more about the “Ultra-MAGA” extremists.  

If Trump is officially back in campaign mode, McConnell will be further unbalanced. Extremism will reign among Republican voters who have taken a culture-war loyalty oath to Trump’s egotistical fiction that Democrats stole the 2020 election. 

Sixty-one percent of Republicans still buy the “Big Lie” about the election, according to the Times poll. And 72 percent of Republicans say the Jan. 6, 2021, mob violence by Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol was nothing more than an overly zealous protest. 

Meanwhile, the Jan. 6 investigation is picking up speed as more Republican witnesses testify to the extremist violence orchestrated by Trump in his attempt to stay in office.  

McConnell has been up on the high wire before. 

Trump and his numerous controversies cost the GOP the House in 2018 and the Senate in 2020. 

Before that, McConnell was storm-tossed by right-wing populism under the Tea Party banner and opposition to the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.  

Republicans won the House in 2010 but the Tea Party’s extreme rhetoric cost the party in statewide elections and left the Senate with a Democratic majority. 

In 2012, the GOP’s reliance on culture wars led to the GOP’s nomination of extreme candidates that lost big in general elections. 

In this cycle, the same problem exists. The best example is the fading GOP opportunity to win Georgia as the result of the many problems surrounding Trump’s handpicked candidate, former football star Herschel Walker. 

Once again, McConnell faces a crash landing because he can’t control right-wing mania in his party.   

As the Jan. 6 Commission prepares its final report — and potentially a recommendation that Attorney General Merrick Garland prosecute Trump — the GOP’s hopes of taking back the Senate are increasingly in peril. 

To keep his balance, McConnell needs to drop the “Ultra-MAGA,” culture wars baggage. Otherwise, the midterms will be a referendum on the GOP’s extremism, and he will take the fall. 

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel. 

Tags 2022 midterm elections culture war Joe Biden Juan Williams

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