I think this gets at the state of play correctly. I agree that Mitch McConnell’s personal preference would be to keep the filibuster since it doesn’t stop him from achieving his top priorities wihile it frustrates Democratic ones:
When Republicans gain control of government, they use their power to deliver victories for their economic constituents. This has held true for decades and has not changed. Even after Donald Trump’s supposedly populist takeover, the party’s priorities in 2017 and 2018 revolved around a tax cut for business owners and heirs to large estates, and an attempt to scale back health-care coverage for people with low incomes or preexisting conditions. The agenda was hardly any different than it would have been if Paul Ryan were president.
I actually believe McConnell — or, at least, I believe this is what he wants. The widespread belief that he will turn around and end the filibuster is a failure to think clearly about McConnell’s own priorities.
The Senate’s current rules are tailored almost perfectly to McConnell’s needs. (This is no coincidence, since McConnell had a big hand in shaping these rules.) First, the things McConnell most wants to pass can pass with 50 votes: tax cuts and spending cuts, both of which can pass through budget reconciliation rules, and confirming judges.
Second, the rules make it easy to block the things McConnell most wants to block: New regulations, such as pollution or campaign finance, and the enactment of most new social programs all require 60 votes. Obamacare took 60 votes to pass and would have been destroyed with 50 (though Republicans only mustered 49).
Third, the remaining filibuster also prevents Republicans from passing radical measures McConnell would, for the most part, prefer not to pass. A national abortion ban is the ultimate example of something Republicans want to be stopped from passing.
But, of course, the Senate majority leader isn’t a dictator — he can encourage, but if a majority really wants to do something they’ll have to go along to keep their job:
Social conservatives have been compliant for a remarkably long time with an internal Republican ordering system that largely reduces them to foot soldiers used to deliver tax cuts for the rich while the culture grows steadily more liberal.
Now the judges the social conservatives got for their patience are finally about to deliver the big prize. The Court is prepared to strike down the right to abortion, and the next Republican-controlled government will have the constitutional ability to ban a procedure they deem to be murder and that will otherwise remain legal in vast swaths of the country.
An equilibrium in which blue states not only keep abortion legal but act aggressively to provide a safe haven for those in the Gilead states is just not going to be tolerable to social reactionaries, which is now pretty much the entire Republican conference. The pressure to allow a national ban to proceed will be overwhelming. I would also add that after 2024 the Republican Senate majority is likely to be so large that the costs of abandoning the filibuster will be mitigated — barring some incredible short-term political realignment after 2024 (and very possibly 2022) Democrats are not going to have a Senate majority for the lifetimes of many members of the Republican conference.
I think the national abortion bans happens, and certainly this kind of smarmy reassurance is incredibly misguided, but we’ll get back to that in a future post.