Is Siding With Trump Really The Key to Beating McConnell?

Former Marine Amy McGrath is running for Mitch McConnell’s Senate seat in 2020. And it sounds like she’s nuzzling up to Trump voters to take the Speaker down.

Democrats have been trying to figure out how to appeal to Trump voters for two years. But McGrath might be the first Trump-era Democrat to make their right wing appeal this transparent, citing Trump’s promises to bring back jobs, lower drug prices and “drain the swamp.” She’s telling Kentucky voters that McConnell is keeping Trump from accomplishing his goals. It isn’t clear if she’s attacking the entire GOP’s inefficiency or saying she’ll help Trump do what he wants. The latter seems likely, and it’s a cynical message for a Democrat, whether it’s voter pandering or sincerely agreeing with Trump and promising to help him pass legislation.

McGrath has run on progressive ideals before, which makes her new messaging even more confusing. As The Intercept’s Ryan Grim pointed out, McGrath was recorded at a fundraiser saying she’s “further left” and “more progressive than anyone in the state of Kentucky” during her failed 2018 Congressional campaign. It’s a perfect quote to juxtapose McGrath’s new pro-Trump messaging with her left-leaning policies and positions. And McConnell’s team pounced immediately, using the audio in their first attack ad against her.

No matter her strategy, McGrath faces a tough fight against McConnell. By her own admission, McConnell “literally invented modern negative campaigning” and has millions of dollars to bankroll it. Her campaign will likely rely on widespread anti-McConnell sentiment and national fundraising, much like Beto O’Rourke’s failed 2018 Senate campaign against Ted Cruz. And McGrath’s already gained traction, raising $2.5 million in just 24 hours following her campaign announcement. She’s received endorsements from prominent politicians like Nancy Pelosi and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as liberal celebrities such as Stephen King and Patton Oswalt. Running against one of the most loathed politicians in living memory, McGrath’s candidacy will remain viable on McConnell hatred alone.

There’s no telling whether McGrath’s appeal to Trump voters will work. Progressives have predictably decried it. Princeton historian and author Kevin Kruse, on the other hand, says he can “see the logic” of campaigning to Kentucky’s fed up Trumpers. Trump won the state with 62 percent of its vote in 2016, but even as Kentucky’s gotten redder, McConnell’s popularity has dipped. As of February, Public Policy Polling has any generic Democrat trailing McConnell by just three percentage points. Drawing in some of McConnell’s disaffected base would shrink that gap even further. But the campaign has only just begun. Attacks will get worse and McGrath will be hammered on her messaging switch from now until Election Day 2020. It remains to be seen if she’ll back off or double down and promise to make Kentucky great again.