“There are times you follow, and times when you lead,” Cooper told the 20-something McConnell, then a Senate staffer, when he inquired about how Cooper squared his support for the Civil Rights Act with stacks of angry letters from pro-segregation constituents. McConnell called it a lesson he’d “never forget”: that “a true leader is one who doesn’t take a poll on every issue.”

“There are some matters of concern where constituents are right and others where the best representative does what he or she thinks ought to be done,” he wrote.

Another thing to remember: McConnell regards himself as a proud institutionalist. It’s hard to tell what that means for McConnell in this moment. Does he see conviction as a worthy punishment for a president who inspired an attack on a co-equal branch of government? If so, maybe it’s not such a long shot. Or does “protecting the institution” mean acquitting Trump, because a post-presidential impeachment is unconstitutional in McConnell’s view?