“Moscow Mitch” has gained traction as a nickname for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the powerful Kentucky Republican is none too happy about that.
In an interview Tuesday with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, McConnell decried the alliterative sobriquet given him by critics after he stymied Senate consideration of two election security bills. The label, he complained, is a political smear.
“It’s modern-day McCarthyism,” he said. “Unbelievable for a Cold Warrior like me who spent a career standing up to the Russians to be given a moniker like that. It’s an effort to smear me.”
Referring to a previous tag he had earned for thwarting other bills, he said, “You know, I can laugh about things like the Grim Reaper, but calling me Moscow Mitch is over the top.”
In July, McConnell thwarted a House-passed measure that sought to authorize $775 million to fortify state election systems and require paper ballots for added security. He also blocked a separate proposal that would have required candidates as well as their staffers and family members to alert federal authorities if offered aid by foreign governments ― a measure sparked by the various revelations into Russian interference in the U.S. 2016 election.
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough derided the senator the next day, dubbing him “Moscow Mitch” ― and the nickname was born. Within hours, it began trending on Twitter, even inspiring a song from rock musician Ben Folds, who performed the tune at a show in New York. It also followed McConnell home, with opponents chanting it as he tried to speak at a political picnic a few weeks ago in Fancy Farm, Kentucky.
Continuing to voice his frustration over his inability to shake the tag, McConnell told Hewitt it’s a product of “what we’re up against with the hard left today in America.”
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank had also taken McConnell to task just after he senator blocked action on the election security bills, calling him a “Russian asset” in a searing op-ed.
“Let’s call this what it is: unpatriotic,” Milbank wrote. “The Kentucky Republican is, arguably more than any other American, doing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bidding.”
A visibly enraged McConnell responded with a defensive Senate floor speech at the end of July, dismissing both Scarborough and Milbank as “hyperventilating hacks.”
“It’s like an inflationary crisis, but with outrage instead of dollars,” he said.
McConnell’s sensitivity to the nickname may stem in part from a potentially spirited Democratic challenge to his bid for a seventh term in the 2020 election.
CORRECTION: This article previously misattributed the “Moscow Mitch” song to the Ben Folds Five; rather, it is by Folds as a solo artist.