With increasing frequency, Donald Trump urges Senate Republicans to replace Sen. Mitch McConnell as their leader. The Kentucky lawmaker doesn’t generally comment on the partisan appeals, but he did tell CNN in a new interview, “I have the votes.”
In other words, the former president can huff and puff all he wants, but as far as McConnell is concerned, the posturing is irrelevant: The Senate GOP leader has the necessary support from his members to keep his job.
That might very well be true, but it’s not the only thing Trump has said lately about the longtime senator. In fact, it was nearly two weeks ago when the former president said McConnell “has a DEATH WISH” for disagreeing with Trump’s legislative strategies. In the same message on his Twitter-like platform, Trump added a racist shot at former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao: “Must immediately seek help and advise from his China loving wife, Coco Chow!”
And on this, McConnell had nothing to say. CNN reported yesterday that McConnell “did not want to respond” to the former president’s offensive rhetoric. The report added:
With less than a month to the midterms, the GOP leader knows full well that a back-and-forth with the former President could distract the party’s focus at a crucial time. And for McConnell, he says he’s not concerned that a growing number of Republicans act like Trump rather than hew to the traditional GOP orthodoxy espoused by the likes of Rep. Liz Cheney, who lost her Wyoming primary this year after her battle over Trump’s “stolen” election lies. His only goal, he said, is winning elections.
“I don’t have a litmus test,” McConnell said when asked if he wants a party more in line with Trump or with Cheney. “I’m for people that get the Republican nomination, and for winning, because if we win, we get to decide what the agenda is, and [Democrats] don’t.”
Or put another way, even now, knowing everything he now knows, after the former president went after his own wife, McConnell is still open to supporting a Trump comeback bid.
It’s not surprising, but maybe it should be.
Let’s revisit some earlier coverage and review how we arrived at this point. It was during Trump’s first year in the White House that the new president looked to McConnell as someone who would simply take orders and make Trump’s problems go away. When the senator tried to explain how government worked, a “profane shouting match” soon followed.
But it was after Trump’s defeat that the relationship collapsed. McConnell had the audacity to accept the results of his own country’s elections and criticize Trump for failing to do the same, at which point the former president started condemning the GOP leader as a corrupt “hack.”
Things seemed to culminate on Feb. 13 of last year, in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s second impeachment trial, when McConnell delivered memorable floor remarks, condemning Trump’s “disgraceful dereliction of duty” on Jan. 6. The Senate minority leader added, “There is no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day. No question about it.”
In the same speech, McConnell called out Trump for his “crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories, and reckless hyperbole ... orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters’ decision or else torch our institutions on the way out.”
The Kentucky senator went on to raise the prospect of Trump facing civil and/or criminal penalties for his obvious misconduct.
Two weeks later, McConnell appeared on Fox News and was asked whether he’d support Trump’s 2024 candidacy, if the former president again ran as the Republican nominee.
“Absolutely,” McConnell replied.
Earlier this year, Axios’ Jonathan Swan tried to explore this further, asking about McConnell’s “moral red lines.” The Senate minority leader didn’t seem to appreciate the line of inquiry.
“As a Republican leader of the Senate, it should not be a front-page headline that I will support the Republican nominee for president,” said McConnell, who added: “I think I have an obligation to support the nominee of my party, and I will.”
When Swan pressed on, asking if there’s anything Trump could possibly do that would cause the senator to withhold his support for the former president, McConnell, appearing visibly frustrated, said: “I don’t get to pick the Republican nominee for president. They’re elected by the Republican voters.”
In other words, asked about his “moral red lines,” the Kentuckian conceded that such lines effectively do not exist, at least insofar as electoral politics is concerned.
His comments to CNN dovetail nicely with his remarks from April. McConnell is “for people that get the Republican nomination, and for winning.” If that means supporting a presidential candidate who instigated an insurrectionist attack on his country’s seat of government, made racist comments about his wife, and made vaguely threatening comments directed at the senator personally, so be it.
McConnell doesn’t have “a litmus test.” His list of concerns starts and ends with the Republican Party’s pursuit of power.