This fits a pattern seen increasingly since mid-February: McConnell steadfast in opposition even as his rank-and-file cross the aisle, raising fragile hopes of a bipartisan revival.It's a stretch and a half to call a few bare closure votes a "shift," and in particular I know I don't buy the "bipartisan revival" bit. If the primary symptom of a "bipartisan revival" is that Republicans can't muster up complete caucus unity on a gun-protection-based filibuster that is (1) deemed a crackpot move by many, many voters and (2) not even the main battleground on this particular bit of legislation, that's a fairly ridiculous thing for anyone to start pinning their hopes on.
Without overstating, it’s a record that suggests a real shift as the Kentucky Republican has seemed to turn his attention single-mindedly to protecting his right flank at home where he faces re-election next year.
It is true, though, that McConnell has shown little control of his party—but it's the right flank that he has no control over, and that's not something that just started last February. The battle between Republicans consists entirely over what to block, and the two choices appear to be "everything" versus "everything, multiple times over." McConnell drifts between one or the other opportunistically, depending on mood and who's doing the fighting.
The truer read might be this:
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), seem bent on countering what many Republicans see as the outsized influence of the tea party star — Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — on McConnell.Forget the McConnell part; you can safely say that the party bigwigs have indeed been peeved at the sudden and rather inexplicable stardom of Ron Paul's nutty and singularly unaccomplished scion. The flighty, unpredictable faction of the base that has elevated Paul, of all people, has already been causing them no end of trouble—the tea partiers, that is—and establishment types like Karl Rove have been fairly blunt about needing to blunt the influence of this new, giddily extremist group. They've got the knives out on this one.
I think McConnell's absence on some of these fights can be seen not merely as preoccupation with an upcoming election back home, but as a definite slight towards the far-right faction; he's not working against them, but neither is he going to much effort to prop their sillier schemes up, allowing the McCains and Grahams and Shelbys of the party to scuttle the more controversial things without he himself having to lift a finger. True, he has plausible deniability in either direction, back home, but that may just be the frosting on the cake. No politician likes to take on an intraparty fight if they don't have to, and right now he doesn't have to.
On the various closure votes cited by Politico as evidence of a turning bipartisan tide (Hagel, Brennan and the 6-month continuing resolution), each were largely political theater with foregone conclusions; the far more remarkable outcome would have been if Republican extremists were able to corrupt even those votes, which would have turned the already-nonfunctional Senate into a one-room dystopia. I hope we're not so far gone as to take the inability of the Republican far-right minority to block absolutely everything the Senate does as "hope" of anything.