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McConnell's Campaign in Hot Water Over Tombstone Tweet

Campaign tweets photo showing fake gravestones featuring his opponent's name, and others
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 6, 2019 12:54 AM CDT
Updated Aug 6, 2019 5:14 AM CDT

(Newser) – Mitch McConnell appeared at Fancy Farm, an annual Kentucky picnic featuring political speeches, on Saturday—and afterward, his campaign tweeted a photo from the event that proved to be controversial. "The Grim Reaper of Socialism at #FancyFarm today," read the tweet, which appeared alongside one photo of the Senate majority leader at the event and another photo showing fake gravestones featuring the names of people and things McConnell feels he has defeated or plans to defeat—including Amy McGrath, his Democratic 2020 challenger, who was not a fan of the photo. More on the ins and outs of the controversy:

  • What was on the other tombstones: Per ABC News: socialism, the Green New Deal (the climate change resolution put forth by Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that the Senate rejected when McConnell brought it for a vote), Merrick Garland (whose nomination to the Supreme Court was blocked by McConnell at the end of then-President Obama's term), and Alison Lundergan Grimes, the challenger McConnell defeated in 2014. Underneath McGrath's name on her gravestone was "November 3rd, 2020"—Election Day.
  • McGrath's response: "Hours after the El Paso shooting, Mitch McConnell proudly tweeted this photo. I find it so troubling that our politics have become so nasty and personal that the Senate Majority Leader thinks it's appropriate to use imagery of the death of a political opponent (me) as messaging."

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  • McConnell team's response to McGrath: Kevin Golden, McConnell's campaign manager, told Fox News the photo was based on a political cartoon: "Our supporters built an homage to the ... cartoon at Fancy Farm and we posted their work," he said via email. "Amy McGrath has tweeted this very cartoon several times and it’s shameful that she’s pretending not to know exactly what it is referencing in order to politicize a tragedy."
  • What he's referring to: The political cartoon in question, which can be seen here, is by Joel Pett and features McConnell holding a shovel and standing among tombstones reading things like "health care," "campaign finance reform," "judicial independence," "Senate decorum," "GOP moderation," "middle class," "coal miners," and a number of names including McGrath's. It was published July 12, and it was actually McConnell's campaign that first tweeted it out three days later, with the senator himself signing the tweet: "Although I profoundly disagree with a few of these grave stones, this might be my all-time favorite cartoon of the over 600 in my career. -MM"
  • Retweets: McGrath then retweeted that tweet the same day (adding her own thoughts: "Since Mitch McConnell went to Washington, [the US Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration] has found 21,000 instances of miners being exposed to toxins that cause black lung disease. Kentuckians are dying and here he is laughing about the destructive effects of his failures."). She did so again two weeks later, writing: "ICYMI: before Mitch McConnell gave sick coal miners only 2 minutes of his time, he thought it was funny to tweet about them dying."
  • McGrath team's response to McConnell's team: Regarding the above statement from Golden, Terry Sebastian of the McGrath campaign told ABC News: "More lies from the McConnell camp. They are just trying to distract folks from the sick and ugly side of the campaign they’ve been running where they seem proud of calling themselves 'Grim Reaper' and 'Cocaine Mitch' and promotes [sic] images of a gravestone of his opponent. They are the worst of what politics has to offer."

  • As for that 'Grim Reaper' thing: See this May Politico piece for more on how McConnell enjoys embracing the criticism thrown his way, particularly the nicknames he's been given by his critics. One sample quote from McConnell: "I appreciate they’ve picked up on what I call myself, which is the Grim Reaper when it comes to things like the 'Green New Deal' and 'Medicare for None.' I appreciate the attention."
  • And as for McConnell's reference to "600": The piece also notes that McConnell has "a full wall of political cartoons, many unflattering," posted in his office, and that at that point back in May, according to his aides' running tally, 592 prominent political cartoons had featured McConnell.
  • The Grim Reaper at Fancy Farm: WFPL notes McConnell referred to his nickname during his appearance Saturday, telling the crowd that his opponents want to "turn America into a socialist country" but that "Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are never going to let that happen. That’s why I call myself the Grim Reaper. I’m killing their socialist agenda."
  • Gabby Giffords weighs in: It wasn't just McGrath criticizing the McConnell campaign's tombstone tweet. Giffords, who has fought against gun violence ever since being shot in 2011, said in a statement: "Threats, intimidation, and hate have no place in our society ... I am appalled that in this divisive political climate—a climate where gun violence fueled by hate is on the rise—Mitch McConnell is joking about the death of his current and former opponents and a federal judge."
(Just after Fancy Farm, McConnell fell and broke his shoulder.)

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