Politics & Policy

Trump v. McConnell

Then-President Donald Trump listens to a question from reporters next to then—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 26, 2019. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
The former president slammed the Senate minority leader in a long, angry, personally insulting statement.

Donald Trump is right about one thing — Mitch McConnell is dour.


The former president slammed the Senate minority leader in a long, angry, personally insulting statement calling for Republicans to break from McConnell and promising to back Trumpist candidates in GOP primaries.


The blast from Trump was obviously retribution for McConnell’s excoriating speech at the end of the Senate trial and his follow-up op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. The former president’s response to McConnell’s lashing but utterly truthful comments about his abysmal conduct after the election was a series of preposterous assertions.


For unexplained reasons, Trump claimed credit for twelve Republican victories in the Senate over the last two election cycles, naturally skipping over the fact that Republicans won control of the Senate back in 2014.


He said McConnell only won reelection in Kentucky last year because of his endorsement, when, of course, McConnell has been comfortably winning Senate elections in Kentucky ever since his initial squeaker in 1984.


He blamed McConnell for the loss of the Georgia special elections last month, pointing to McConnell’s refusal to agree to $2,000 checks for individuals in the COVID-relief bill passed at the end of last year. Even if this issue was decisive in Georgia, Trump is the one who elevated it and bizarrely, only did so after a COVID deal had already been reached on Capitol Hill. This put Republicans, including the candidates in Georgia, in the most awkward possible position.


Regardless, the more compelling explanation for the Georgia losses is that Trump divided the party with his outlandish attacks on Georgia officials who wouldn’t endorse his conspiracy theories about the election and discouraged Republican turnout in contests where they didn’t have any votes to spare.


For good measure, Trump included the smear that McConnell is weak on the CCP because of nonexistent business holdings in China.


It is certainly true, as Trump stated in the abusive terms, that McConnell isn’t charismatic; firebrands don’t typically rise to leadership in the Senate. McConnell is, to his credit, an institutionalist. He is also canny, tough-minded, and willing to play the long game in advancing the interests of the Republican Party and of conservatism. This doesn’t mean that his judgment is flawless. He’s made some wrong calls in GOP primary fights over the years, and surely will again.


But he’s genuinely interested in building up his party, rather than tearing it down if he doesn’t get his way. The same can’t be said of his antagonist.


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