IRELAND: No takers for the Mitch McConnell question

October 10, 2015

You know that moment when you ask a question and the room goes dead silent? The “Did he just ask that?” moment? Here is one for you; ask the three Republicans vying to replace retiring Sen. Dan Coats whether they back Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

This is the sort of question everyone wants answered in plain terms. Yet more often than not, answers to such a thing weasel into political tangents and always seem to come up short of a straightforward response. You know the drill.

So, to make it easy on the candidates, the question is simple: “Yes or no? Will you back Mitch McConnell for majority leader?” What more is there to ask?

Is that the sort of response I get? Of course not.

Earlier this year, it was Tea Party favorite congressman Marlin Stutzman. When prompted about McConnell, Stutzman refrained from choosing a side but instead said to look to his record of opposition to House Speaker John Boehner. A very firm, bold maybe.

I asked Eric Holcomb the same question just a few days later and was greeted with a similarly lackluster response. As he put it, he is “too humble” to “pass judgments” on Senate colleagues before being elected to office. Chief of staff to a sitting U.S. senator, I find it hard to believe Holcomb has not had ample opportunity to make up his mind. The same could be said for Stutzman, who routinely sees legislation passed by the House only to die in McConnell’s Senate.

I admit I have never seen Todd Young respond to the question on McConnell. If I get the chance, I will be sure to ask. However, given his longtime approach to Boehner, I can say with near certainty he falls in the same camp.

Young has long walked a political tightrope painting himself as a conservative fighting the Washington establishment while still finding himself in most every substantive way standing with Boehner and company.

All three candidates avoid the question. As I see it, replying in uncertain terms is the result of two possible factors: incompetence or lack of courage. Giving credit where it is due, none of these guys strike me as a dummy.

These are three men who have spent years in Washington. I refuse to believe they lack enough information or intelligence to decide whether McConnell’s leadership is worthy of their vote.

They do lack courage, however. Courage to tell voters their convictions--regardless of how a stance polls. Just because the question is tough does not warrant not answering it.

I get it. You stand against McConnell and your time as a representative in Washington will not be easy. From fundraising to committee assignments and other perks, the majority leader can certainly be a boost to any newcomer.

On the other hand, conservatives argue that, even if the votes are not there to remove an overwhelmingly unpopular McConnell, our leaders must take a stand. I get that, too.

As I see it, the Senate needs a champion. A candidate who will state his or her beliefs and suffer the consequences--whether that is backing the unpopular McConnell for practical reasons or pledging to give him the boot.

To be frank, I could admire a candidate on either side of the coin. The litmus test here is not in what you choose, but that you make a choice and are willing to own it. To me, nothing could be more humble.•


Ireland is a college Republican at Indiana University. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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