Donald Trump has spent a chunk of August publicly feuding with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), with the two Republican leaders trading thinly veiled rebukes. It’s all part of one of the year’s less expected political food fights.But privately, it’s reportedly much worse. We talked earlier about this New York Times piece, which raises the prospect of Trump obstructing justice by expecting McConnell to intervene in the investigation into the Russia scandal, but at a more basic level, we’re also learning that the Senate Majority Leader doesn’t appear to have confidence in his party’s president.
The relationship between President Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks, and Mr. McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Mr. Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.
What was once an uneasy governing alliance has curdled into a feud of mutual resentment and sometimes outright hostility…. Angry phone calls and private badmouthing have devolved into open conflict.
The Times’ article added that McConnell has privately marveled at Trump’s unwillingness “to learn the basics of governing.” The Senate GOP leader has also “expressed a sense of bewilderment about where Mr. Trump’s presidency may be headed.”
McConnell’s concerns are obviously grounded in fact, and on the surface, it’s tempting to feel some sympathy for him. But it’s important not to lose sight of the senator’s role in making the mess he finds himself in the middle of.
Like Dr. Frankenstein, McConnell created a monster he thought he could control, only to discover he doesn’t care for the results.
His quiet, unassuming demeanor notwithstanding, Mitch McConnell has spent many years taking a sledgehammer to American political norms. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank argued persuasively in April that the Kentucky Republican effectively “broke America.” The columnist added, “No man has done more in recent years to undermine the functioning of U.S. government. His has been the epitome of unprincipled leadership,”
As we discussed at the time, it was McConnell who pushed the political limits in ways without precedent in the American tradition, ignoring any sense of norms or institutional limits. It was McConnell who cooked up an unprecedented scorched-earth scheme to obstruct President Obama, hoping to undermine his legitimacy and rejecting the idea of bipartisan compromises.
It was McConnell who was warned about Russia’s illegal attack on the American election last year, only to scuttle efforts to address the crisis because he wanted to put Moscow’s candidate – in this case, Donald Trump – in the Oval Office.
The Republican’s Senate leader knew Trump was unfit for office. He recognized Trump’s ignorance. He was well aware of each of Trump’s most depraved qualities. Part of him may have even appreciated how his own brand of cynical political warfare helped create the conditions that led to Trump’s rise in his party in the first place.
But McConnell, ignoring the dangers, nevertheless did everything he could to put Trump in power, hoping congressional Republicans could compensate for their president’s ineptitude and expecting Trump to be little more than a pen for GOP legislation.
And it’s apparently now dawning on the majority leader that those hopes were folly.