Whenever someone starts asking Minority Leader Mitch McConnell about morality, it's bound to get uncomfortable. Over the years, McConnell has made it perfectly clear that his world is singularly ordered around the pursuit of power—a scheme in which morality has found no audience.
Luckily for McConnell, nearly every Capitol Hill reporter has given up on trying to figure out where the longtime GOP leader might draw the line on the path to his Holy Grail—what might be a bridge too far. Instead, D.C. reporters uniquely obsess over the strategic considerations of the supposed mastermind—who incidentally whiffed on his golden opportunity to sideline Donald Trump forever electorally during his second impeachment.
McConnell is, in fact, an avid purveyor of red lines. Increasing taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations is a red line for him, as was supporting a pandemic relief package that didn't include liability protections for companies that put their workers lives at risk. Indeed, McConnell's pronouncements over the years have been riddled with so-called red lines.
That's what made a line of questioning this week by Axios' Jonathan Swan about McConnell's "moral red line" so entertaining.
Initially, McConnell thought he could slide right past the query without too much scrutiny. In response to Swan’s description of him as politically “ruthless,” McConnell joked that his wife thinks he's nice, his kids like him, and then further ribbed that he was "shocked to hear such a comment."
But Swan wasn't playing McConnell's game. "So moral red lines, where do you draw them?" Swan repeated.
McConnell, treading water, actually asked Swan to repeat the term, as if the concept was so foreign, it didn't quite compute.
Finally, McConnell offered, “I’m very comfortable with my moral red line."
After Swan asked the question, lingered on it, and then dug a little deeper, McConnell finally said, “You want to spend some more time on this?”
"I actually do," replied Swan.
Of course, he did. It was a sit-down interview in front of a live audience. McConnell was captive, without the ability to simply walk away from the mic the way he routinely does at press conferences. The whole exchange was so cringey, it was delightful.
Then Swan invoked Liz Cheney, noting that she had the same view as McConnell about Trump being culpable for Jan. 6. But while McConnell has said he would vote for Trump if he were the 2024 nominee, Cheney has made perfectly clear that Trump must be destroyed.
“I’m just actually trying to understand," Swan offered, "Is there any threshold for you—”
“You know, I say many things I’m sure people don’t understand.”
In short, no.