Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says the path to GOP success in 2020 is running "to be the firewall that saves the country from socialism."
McConnell told reporters Thursday that he is advising all Republican Senate candidates to run on offense by casting themselves as the only alternative to Democrats who want to drive the country to the left.
"You add up things like packing the Supreme Court, getting rid of the electoral college, the Green New Deal, and Medicare for none and you have a prescription of turning America into something it never has been and never should be," McConnell said. "So we intend to be on the offense in running our races."
McConnell said Republicans running for Senate can also "paint your own picture of what your service has meant to your constituents" — a plan that involves highlighting the Senate's work on criminal justice reform and combating the opioid crisis.
Left-leaning policies discussed by Democrats on the presidential campaign trail will help form the foundation of GOP attacks on Democrats running for other offices as well.
"My experience in politics has been that very few voters come out and vote and say thank you," McConnell said. "They generally are looking for what the deficiencies are on one side or another and I think what we're seeing in the Democratic presidential primaries, gives us a sense of what we should be against in 2020."
The top Senate GOP leader said his party can learn a lesson from the 2018 election when it lost control of the House of Representatives. He said a 2020 campaign needs to repair major losses among women and college graduates to regain ground with critical suburban voters.
"We did very poorly in the suburbs, which cost us the House," he said. "To give you a sense of that the gender issue, we lost women by four points in 2014 — about typical you know in a successful year for us. We lost women by 19 in '18 and we lost college graduates for the first time in my memory. That is not a path to political success."
That plan of attack isn't preventing McConnell from pursuing some bipartisan agreements in the many months ahead next year's elections. McConnell says he has a good working relationship with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and he has high hopes that the two can work together to reach a two-year budget agreement in the near future.
He announced plans earlier this week to work with Pelosi and the White House on a bipartisan deal to prevent a government shutdown later this year.
"We're each enabling at the staff level people to begin to discuss what we're going to do," McConnell said. "And we have to do it together."
Pelosi and McConnell hope to avoid a repeat of the 35-day partial government shutdown that started before Christmas last year and dragged on until January 25 of this year. One way to avoid that is for party leaders to reach a deal on a spending package that satisfies a majority of members in the middle, even if it alienates progressives and conservatives on the fringes of each party.
"The only thing possible is a bipartisan agreement that probably in the end the most liberal members of her party don't vote for and most conservative members of my party don't vote for," McConnell said. "But it gives us some semblance of a way to have a normal appropriations process."
The words of encouragement about a deal weren't without a dig at Pelosi's political predicament in managing her new, ideologically diverse majority. McConnell compared liberal House Democrats — many of whom tried to force votes on liberal issues like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal and threatened to vote against a budget bill to push for greater domestic spending — to the divisive House Freedom Caucus that fractured the GOP in previous years.
"I was almost tempted to call up my good friend the speaker and say 'congratulations you've got a Freedom Caucus on your hands,' " McConnell joked. "And she clearly does."