Have we not all wondered how invested was Mitch McConnell in chastising Elizabeth Warren, rather than simply intimidating Senate Democrats?
As Jon Chait notes, the Senate's Rule 19 -- a prohibition against senators attributing "to other senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator" -- is a "selectively enforced" rule, which further means it's capriciously applied, thus in the hands of Republicans, more likely to be abused. Such potential abuse hit a high point in McConnell's application of Rule 19 to Sen. Warren and her reading of a 1986, anti-Jeff Sessions letter by Coretta Scott King.
That reading, declared the majority leader, "impugned the motives and conduct" of Mr. Sessions, which, of course, any anti-anybody letter would have done. ("The rule," adds Chait, is not only a "slightly absurd imposition of etiquette designed to protect the swollen senatorial ego," but more importantly, it's an offense against logic. How else to argue Session's unworthiness than to argue his unworthiness?)
Nonetheless, McConnell made his point, which to me seemed less a verbal blast against Warren's "etiquette" than a pronounced warning delivered to all Senate Democrats. From now on the Dems are to keep a civil tongue, Republicans will be defining civility, and the latter, naturally, can say whatever they like. In the hands of the GOP, Rule 19 is much like the Donald Trump rule of "debate." (I'd point you to it, but there isn't one.)
Chait goes on to note the similarity between McConnell's invocation of Rule 19 and the House's "gag rule" of the 19th century, which "backfired," as censorship generally does. The older gag rule accomplished little more than exposing slavocracy's argumentational weaknesses; if the South could win a debate against the North only by shutting down debate, well, there you go. "Mitch McConnell’s gag rule on Elizabeth Warren," concludes Chait, "will likely have the same effect." What's more, McConnell's censorship "has given the opposition a platform, and a cause."
Did the crafty majority leader anticipate this? Of course he did. Did he, does he, care? That I doubt. For now, McConnell's only interest lies in intimidating Democrats on the Senate floor -- in effect, shutting them down, and out. On the House side, and in similar performance, there are the virtual dictatorships of Paul Ryan and Jason Chaffetz. And then there's the king of intimidation, the so-called president of the United States.
Ultimately? Undisputed one-party rule. That's the goal. But that will go the way of the 19th century's gag rule, assuming the American public has retained its hostility toward censorship.