If Democrats win only one of the Senate seats in Georgia, where Warnock has consistently led in polling, the Senate will be split 51-49. Democrats could kneecap Mitch McConnell and infuriate the GOP by convincing Mitt Romney to serve as Senate Majority Leader.
By winning one seat in Georgia, the matter could be accomplished by persuading Romney alone. Romney would have to announce his intention to caucus with the Democrats which, combined with control of the VP slot, would give Democrats the right to select the Majority Leader. If Democrats lost both seats, one additional Senate Republican would have to cooperate. Not impossible, but less likely and less attractive.
Would Romney agree to this? I don’t know. Does he seem like someone who might be interested in becoming the most powerful man in America? Does he seem like the kind of guy who’d lose sleep over angering Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and the Proud Boys?
What’s in it for Democrats? Revenge on McConnell might sound petty, but it’s something. Already 78, with Republicans facing an impossible ’22 map, he’d almost certainly be finished, likely even facing a challenge for the minority leadership.
Beyond that, instead of the loathed McConnell the Senate would be presided over by a Majority Leader who depended on Democrats for his job. That doesn’t mean he’d give them every committee assignment they want, support every Biden appointee, or give a blank check to all of Biden’s court appointments. If he was smart, he’d use his position to carefully advance some key Republican concerns as well. He wouldn’t facilitate the core of the Democrats’ hoped-for agenda, but he would back climate legislation, and could be counted on not to allow idiotic grandstanding on government shutdowns, etc.
Having Democratic leadership of at least some Senate committees could have enormous impact on the day-to-day work of legislation, relieving much of the gridlock of the past ten years on routine matters.
If Democrats got sick of the arrangement at any point, they could fire him, turning control back over to McConnell. That might not be pleasant, but the threat could provide some leverage over Romney. Once McConnell reassumed control, he would make Romney’s life very uncomfortable, probably driving him out of politics altogether. To a very large extent, Romney would be a hostage of the Democrats.
Romney would become indisputably the most powerful man in the US. Biden, Pelosi AND the GOP would have to appease him to accomplish almost anything they want. He would decide what everyone gets in a way that no one in our government would otherwise do. If you don’t think that would appeal to Romney, you haven’t been paying attention. And he and Biden have always gotten along well.
There’s something else in it for Romney. Republicans face a murderous Senate map in 2022, with at least five of their seats at serious risk, while Democrats are risking none (unless they beat Loeffler in Georgia in January, that seat will be up in ’22). Republicans’ odds of gaining seats are as close to zero in ’22 as they can be. If Romney played this gambit skillfully, he’d be in position to run it again in the next Congress by recruiting the support of a couple of Democrats and the GOP. This might not be bad for the country, a welcome step on the road to a more parliamentary governing arrangement, requiring coalitions to assemble congressional leadership. A move like this could cut the heart out of our wave of extremism, especially on the right. Mitt Romney could become a political party unto himself.
Egos are probably the biggest reason this won’t happen. Schumer would likely rather sit locked out of influence as head of the minority than do anything that might feel like a demotion. No one in leadership in Washington in either party is known for any creativity or cunning – except McConnell. Grassroots Democrats would howl at this arrangement, as they typically have no higher a civic IQ than the average Republican. They wouldn’t understand this move at all, calling it treason rather than recognizing its benefits.
A Senate under the control of a pragmatic coalition could pave a path toward a lot of commonsense reforms, though it would certainly undermine the hopes of both the right and the left. Plunging a dagger into McConnell by replacing him with Romney could cement a period of calm, competent administration, allowing us to prepare for a final onslaught on the GOP. Maybe someone will consider it, but this will probably become just another missed opportunity.