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What Was Mitch McConnell Thinking?
PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., is surrounded by reporters

The past two weeks have not been easy for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The Kentucky Republican faced unruly caucus members such as Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who clashed with him as he tried to negotiate an end to the stalemate with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. And now McConnell, who already had a competitive re-election bid on his hands, has seen his political predicament in Kentucky grow even more perilous.

The Senate Conservatives Fund, which has been a leading anti-establishment GOP force, today endorsed McConnell's Republican primary opponent, Matt Bevin.

"Mitch McConnell has the support of the entire Washington establishment, and he will do anything to hold onto power," said Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund. "But if people in Kentucky and all across the country rise up and demand something better, we're confident Matt Bevin can win this race."

Allison Moore, a spokeswoman for McConnell, shot back: "Matt Bevin now has the dubious honor of standing with a self-serving DC fundraising group that made its name by recruiting and promoting unelectable candidates that ensured Barack Obama a majority in the Senate. They clearly care less about Kentuckians than they do about their reputation for supporting laughably bad candidates."

But even as McConnell and his team look ahead to the big political fight to come, he's spent the two days since the shutdown ended looking back at the wrangling on Capitol Hill. Here are four comments that offer a peek inside the senator's head:

"They knew I had a weak hand, given the time we had squandered on this quixotic venture that had no chance of success, but they asked me to find a way out and I did. Most of them voted for it, too, which I appreciated."

This quote is from a lengthy interview with the National Review's Robert Costa. Translation: McConnell is saying that the latest push to defund and dismantle the Affordable Care Act was likely too ambitious for its own good. The Kentucky Republican is casting himself as the adult in the room who helped Republicans in his own legislative body veer back onto a more sensible path.

"I've demonstrated, once again, that when the Congress is in gridlock and the country is at risk, I'm the guy who steps forward and tries to get us out of the ditch. So it's been a bad 24 hours for her, and she's going to need to find a new rationale."

In the same interview, McConnell alluded to his Democratic Senate opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grime. He is trying to dismantle one of her main talking points - that McConnell is the embodiment of Washington dysfunction. McConnell is using the opportunity to say that he is fully capable of working across party lines - for the greater good.

"They may, depending upon the amount of heat they get from their constituents because of rising premiums, because of job loss, because of the chaos of the exchanges, they may be open to changes."

In an interview with The Hill's Alexander Bolton, McConnell shares a view held by many Republicans: the Affordable Care Act's design will lead to its own demise. He is arguing that Democrats will eventually come to view Obamacare negatively, which could lead to an effort to drastically change the law.

"The Army Corps requested it, both House and Senate passed an authorization for it, and every senator - every single one - had a chance to review it and ask for it to be taken out."

McConnell fiercely defended the decision to include in the final bill an earmark, which would help save the jobs of hundreds of people working on the Olmsted Locks and Dam project, portions of which are in Kentucky. In an interview with Politico, McConnell said the earmark enjoyed bipartisan support - an attempt to inoculate himself against attacks claiming he porked up the bill.

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