How did McConnell manage to keep his party in line not only with himself but with a White House that seemed to change its mind about messaging and strategy on an almost hourly basis? In part, I think, by sitting back and allowing Democrats to do most of the work for him. Instead of a heavy-handed pressure campaign that would almost certainly have spilled over into print, he simply allowed Jerry Nadler and the other House impeachment managers to make fools of themselves. MSNBC audiences might have enjoyed watching Nadler accuse Republican senators whose chamber he was visiting of engaging in a “cover-up” and preparing for a “vote against the United States.” Collins and Murkowski were not. Both issued statements calling his remarks offensive, and the admonition to “remember that they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body” from John Roberts on Monday, while ostensibly directed at both the House manager and Trump’s counsel, only underscored their feelings. Nor did Elizabeth Warren do her side any favors by essentially declaring Roberts illegitimate. With enemies like this, who needs friends?
The genius of McConnell’s hands-off strategy was that it was not incompatible with allowing his other members to take as hard of a line as they wished. While moderates focused on second-order procedural questions and tone policed Democrats, Rand Paul attempted to put the name of the so-called whistleblower into the Senate record and Josh Hawley made plans for forcing Joe and Hunter Biden to testify.