This is small potatoes relative to everything else the country’s coping with right now but it’s fascinating as an example of election-year culture-war politics.

Note that McConnell doesn’t say he supports Elizabeth Warren’s amendment to the defense spending bill to have Confederate-named bases renamed within three years. He says he’d be okay with it if it passed. But that’s surprising in context: Trump has already said that he won’t allow the names to be changed and the Democrat spearheading the effort is one of the right’s least favorite politicians. For McConnell to be neutral in their battle is uncharacteristic, especially since Cocaine Mitch himself is on the ballot in the southern state of Kentucky five months from now.

Or is that the point? Does McConnell think this issue is a loser even back home?

I think he’s hedging his bets here.

Trump has blasted the calls to rename the military bases. “Hopefully our great Republican Senators won’t fall for this!” he said in a tweet last week.

A GOP-controlled Senate panel voted last week to require bases such as Fort Bragg and Fort Hood to be renamed within three years. McConnell, himself the descendant of a Confederate veteran, didn’t endorse the idea but said he wouldn’t oppose it. Similarly, top House Republican Kevin McCarthy of California said last week — after repeated prodding — that he doesn’t oppose the idea.

“I can only speak for myself on this issue. If it’s appropriate to take another look at these names, I’m OK with that,” McConnell said. “Whatever is ultimately decided I don’t have a problem with.”

What do I mean by “hedging his bets”? A few days ago the governor of Kentucky, Democrat Andy Beshear, presided over the removal of a 12-foot statue of Jefferson Davis from the state capitol. McConnell’s probably calculating that that pissed off a meaningful number of Republicans in his home state. But if he comes out against removing Confederate monuments *and* against renaming military bases named after Confederates, Democrats have an easy attack line on him. So McConnell’s likely splitting the difference. He’ll sound conciliatory about renaming the bases but will oppose removing the statues in hopes of pleasing everybody, sort of. And lo and behold, when he was asked today about Pelosi’s effort to remove statues of Confederates from the U.S. Capitol, he said he opposes it:

“What I do think is clearly a bridge too far is this nonsense that we need to airbrush the Capitol and scrub out everybody from years ago who had any connection to slavery,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters, noting that a handful of former American presidents owned slaves.

No on removing Confederate monuments, maybe on removing Confederate names. Culture-war triangulation, McConnell-style.

What I’m wondering now is whether his endgame here is to have the defense bill, which includes Warren’s amendment, pass by overwhelming veto-proof margins. That seemed unlikely to me at first but I noted in a post over the weekend how many Senate Republicans have sounded receptive to Warren’s amendment, and not just the usual centrist suspects like Collins and Murkowski. John Cornyn sounds okay with it. Roy Blunt supports it, as does Mike Rounds. So does James Lankford. Today John Thune, the number two in the caucus, said, “My guess is that this is a debate whose time has probably come and I think that we need to listen to where people in the country are right now.” Asked about the prospect of Trump vetoing the defense bill because of Warren’s provision about changing base names, Thune added, interestingly, “it’s not, I think, insurmountable.”

Maybe the Senate GOP’s plan is to nuke Trump’s veto. That’s the only way out of a political pickle for them. If Trump vetoes the bill and blocks funding for the Pentagon as a result, the GOP will be on the hook for it with an election just months away. Democrats will accuse Trump of placing the “tradition” of honoring a slave regime that waged war on the United States above supplying the Defense Department with money for the troops. McConnell doesn’t want his incumbents paying a price for that this fall. If he can find 20 Republicans to join with Democrats in nuking a Trump veto, he can simultaneously get the money to the Pentagon, make a small gesture of rebuke towards pro-Confederate traditions, and put some distance between his caucus and Trump in one fell swoop. In a best-case scenario, just the prospect of having his veto overridden might cow Trump into signing the bill, however grudgingly. Either way, this isn’t a fight McConnell wants. I wonder if he’s already quietly assembling 20 votes to make sure that he doesn’t need to have it.

By the way, the statue of Jefferson Davis that was just removed from the Kentucky capitol didn’t go up during the Civil War or in the immediate aftermath. It was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1936, when most Confederate soldiers were long dead. Likewise, U.S. military bases weren’t named after Confederate generals during Reconstruction or shortly thereafter, as a gesture of reconciliation to the south. I assumed that was true in a previous post but it isn’t. Most of the bases were established during World Wars I and II. “The bases, all in former Confederate states, were named with input from locals in the Jim Crow era,” WaPo explained a few days ago. “The Army courted their buy-in because it needed large swaths of land to build sprawling bases in the early 20th century up through World War II.” They were named after warriors for a slave government as a way to flatter the racial prejudices of southerners in the first half of the 20th century, not as a tribute to Confederate “gallantry” or whatever. Trump may not realize that origin, just as I didn’t realize it, but that’s the “heritage” that’s being honored by keeping the base names intact.

Here’s Emmanuel Macron a few days ago warning his own countrymen that the government won’t allow colonial-era tributes to racists to be torn down. That’s appropriate, the same way it’s appropriate to protect statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Those monuments don’t honor them for their sins, they honor them in spite of them, for their other achievements. That’s not true of Confederate luminaries. The closest modern French analog I can think of would be a monument to the Vichy government. There aren’t many of those to tear down around France because they weren’t put up in the first place. The French are ashamed of that part of their history, rightly so.