The Kentucky Democratic Party said Wednesday it's launching a "Moscow Mitch" webstore, intensifying a dig that has struck a nerve with the normally unflappable Senate majority leader. It comes after a Washington Post columnist recently criticized McConnell for blocking legislation aimed at protecting the nation's political system against foreign attack. Noting Russia's cyber intrusion on the 2016 presidential election and indications that it would try again next year, the column was headlined, "Mitch McConnell is a Russian asset."
MSNBC host Joe Scarborough quickly weighed in with the "Moscow Mitch" nickname, a moniker Kentucky Democrats say was coined by a retired schoolteacher in the state. Long on the receiving end of McConnell's pointed attacks, the Democrats relished a chance to go on the offensive against the six-term senator, who's up for reelection next year and has aligned himself closely with President Donald Trump.
The state Democratic Party said it's selling the red T-shirts for $25. They depict a picture of McConnell wearing a Cossack hat with the "hammer and sickle" symbol. The shirt declares "Just say Nyet to Moscow Mitch" in yellow, Soviet-style letters. Buttons and stickers are also available.
"We've even thrown in a 'Moscow Mitch' Cossack-style faux-fur hat for extra snark," the party said in a news release. All proceeds will go to the Kentucky Democratic Party. McConnell has pushed back, likening the attacks to "modern-day McCarthyism." In a Senate speech this week, McConnell said the "absurd smears" ignored that he's "spent decades pushing back on Russia every way I can think of" — including steps to secure elections.
His office notes that McConnell helped steer $380 million to states to enhance voting systems before last year's election and that the Senate has passed several measures to help secure elections. Longtime McConnell adviser Josh Holmes also lashed out at Kentucky Democrats.
"The irony here is that a cursory review of the Russian plan to infiltrate our elections reveals that their entire goal was to inspire Americans to do precisely what the Kentucky Democrat Party has done here," he said in a statement. "They're so hapless they don't even realize they are literally executing (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's game plan to a tee."
In his testimony to Congress last week, former special counsel Robert Mueller said of the interference by Russians and others: "They are doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign."
"Moscow Mitch" is not the first nickname given to McConnell. He's even relished giving himself nicknames. In May, his campaign's website starting selling "Cocaine Mitch" shirts, capitalizing on an attack from an unsuccessful West Virginia Senate candidate. The candidate was referring to a 2014 magazine article alleging that drugs were found aboard a commercial cargo ship owned by the family of McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, who serves as Trump's transportation secretary. There was never any direct connection established to Chao or McConnell. McConnell was so dismissive of the attack that he referenced the "Cocaine Mitch" attack in a parting shot last year mocking the candidate's election loss.
McConnell also has said he'll be the "Grim Reaper" in killing proposals from the Democratic-led House. But the "Moscow Mitch" nickname could be ringing in McConnell's ears Saturday, when he's scheduled to attend the state's leading political event — the Fancy Farm picnic in western Kentucky. There, prominent politicians regularly take turns taking digs at their rivals, while shouting partisans try to rattle the speakers.