Politics & Policy

Graham: McConnell Must Have ‘Working Relationship’ with Trump to Remain Party Leader

Senator Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) talks about the cost of the Build Back Better package at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., December 16, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham urged Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to rekindle a “working relationship” with former president Donald Trump after the pair fell out over Trump’s conduct in the wake of his defeat in the 2020 election.

Graham suggested that collaboration with Trump will be a prerequisite for the GOP in the future, and that McConnell will cease to be a viable candidate or party leader if he refuses to engage with Trump. The senator hinted that support for McConnell’s ouster could be growing among certain wings of the party.

“If you want to be a Republican leader in the House or the Senate, you have to have a working relationship with Donald Trump,” Graham told Sean Hannity during an appearance on Fox News. “I like Senator McConnell…but here’s the question: Can Senator McConnell effectively work with the leader of the Republican Party, Donald Trump? I’m not going to vote for anybody that can’t…because if you don’t do that you will fail.”

Since January 6, 2021, Trump and McConnell have not been on speaking terms and don’t seem to have any intention of seeking amends, but they still exchange name-calling and bickering from a distance.

In July, Trump claimed McConnell was too “stupid” to terminate the filibuster while he was in office, preventing the GOP from passing many agenda items. McConnell condemned Trump for inciting the Capitol riot but ultimately voted to acquit him during the latter’s second impeachment trial. While voting that Trump was “not guilty,” McConnell delivered a scathing speech calling the former’s role in the day a “dangerous dereliction of duty.”

While some Republican lawmakers have conceded that the former president’s influence is too great over the voter base to sever ties, other members wish to forge a GOP in which he is not a major player. Trump’s endorsement is still considered valuable for any aspiring Republican representative, and the former president has found a way to wield this power to shape the party.

For example, he offered his support to Alaska governor Mike Dunleavy last month on the condition that he refuse to endorse Republican senator Lisa Murkowski in her reelection bid in the state. Trump said his backing would be “null and void” if Dunleavy reneged.

“Please tell the president thank you for the endorsement,” Dunleavy said in a statement. “With regard to the other issue, please tell the president he has nothing to worry about. I appreciate all 45 has done for Alaska and this country.”

In September, Trump endorsed a challenger to Republican Representative Liz Cheney, who has been a vocal critic of his for years. Since Trump left office, Cheney has been increasingly estranged from the party, removed from her post as chair of the House Republican Conference in May. She has served on the the January 6 select committee since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed her.

Most recently, Trump lashed out at Senator Mike Rounds this week after the South Dakota Republican acknowledged that the 2020 election was “fair.” Trump vowed to never again endorse Rounds and asked “is he crazy or just stupid?” McConnell defended Rounds days later, saying he “told the truth” about the election.

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