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GOP food fight: Trump and McConnell take aim at each other

Republicans are failing, and they're led by officials who are scrambling in desperation to avoid blame. Trump and McConnell are pointing fingers at each other.
Image: Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell (C) walks to his office after leaving the Senate floor following votes on a package of nominations, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 03 August 2017. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) spoke to a Rotary Group in Kentucky on Monday, expressing some frustrations about Donald Trump's "excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process." The GOP's Senate leader added that the president doesn't yet understand the "reality" of the legislative process.

The New York Times reports that the two Republicans spoke by phone yesterday, and Trump expressed "his disappointment" with McConnell's comments. Soon after, the president's private concerns became public concerns.

"Senator Mitch McConnell said I had 'excessive expectations,' but I don't think so," Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon, as he and lawmakers took time away from Washington during the August recess. "After 7 years of hearing Repeal & Replace, why not done?"

And while that was obviously a mild rebuke, especially by Trump standards, the president's tone seemed a little more agitated this morning, adding via Twitter, "Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn't get it done. Must Repeal & Replace ObamaCare!"

Some of Trump's closest allies appear eager to add fuel to the fire. Senior White House aide Dan Scavino Jr. lashed out at McConnell yesterday morning, and Fox's Sean Hannity, a Trump loyalist, was even more aggressive in targeting his party's Senate leader.

Nearly seven months into the Trump era, is managing to divide not just the country, but also the Republican Party.

The consequences of the intra-party food fight matter.

There's certainly room for debate about who's ultimately responsible for the GOP's troubles in taking health care benefits away from millions of Americans -- and whose expectations were unrealistic -- but the more salient question is who's likely to gain an advantage in a public dispute between Trump and McConnell.

The answer, of course, is neither of them.

"Attacking the Senate majority leader of your own party is utterly incomprehensible and completely wrongheaded," said Michael Steel, a Republican strategist who was an aide to former House Speaker John Boehner and Jeb Bush, told the New York Times. "There is no positive result for the president or his agenda in these attacks."

I think that's right. I also think the president can't help himself. Trump felt slighted by McConnell's mild criticism, and true to form, he's returning fire.

And while that probably makes the president feel better, it doesn't help him in any other way. Trump needs McConnell desperately, and if there's a sensible strategy behind feuding with him publicly, it's hiding well.

What we're witnessing is a party that's failing, led by officials who are scrambling in desperation to avoid blame. Whether they realize it or not, Trump and McConnell are making future failures more likely, not less.

Postscript: I should add that disagreements between ostensible allies like these are not historically unusual. Even Barack Obama and Harry Reid occasionally grew frustrated with one another, and let each other know it. Advancing an agenda can be hard, even when one party controls the levers of power, and it's only natural for emotions to sometimes run high, especially when things aren't going well.

What's different about this week is the public nature of the Trump-McConnell quarrel.