McConnell balks at backing up Trump on imagined conversation

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks with reporters reporters after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol Aug. 4, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talks with reporters reporters after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol Aug. 4, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

A few weeks ago, as Donald Trump tried to convince the public that his scandalous phone call with Ukraine president Volodomyr Zelenskiy was actually benign, the president pointed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for backup.

Talking to reporters, Trump described a conversation with the Republicans' Senate leader about the controversy. After the GOP lawmaker read the official call summary, Trump said McConnell told him, "That was the most innocent phone call that I've read."

Even at the time, it wasn't an especially notable development. After all, "GOP leader sides with GOP president" is an inherently boring story. Yesterday, however, it took an interesting turn when McConnell told reporters that, despite Trump's claim, he's never discussed the Zelensky call with him. Politico reported:

"We've not had any conversations on that subject," McConnell told reporters. [...]McConnell was asked Tuesday whether the president was lying when he made that statement. The GOP leader replied: "You'll have to ask him. I don't recall any conversations with the president about that phone call."

There are a couple of angles to this that are worth keeping in mind. The first is the fact that McConnell was willing yesterday to publicly contradict his party's president in a way that made Trump look bad. It would've been easy for McConnell to harmlessly go along with Trump's recent claim -- whether the two chatted about the Zelensky call is of minor significance -- but the Kentucky Republican wanted everyone to know that what the president said wasn't true.

McConnell is an experienced political weatherman, and watching him yesterday, it was hard not to wonder whether he's aware of a shift in the direction of the prevailing winds.

The other angle of note is Trump's curious habit of describing the details of conversations that only occurred in his mind. As regular readers know, it's something he does with unsettling regularity, though the president usually quotes "anonymous validators" who can't publicly contradict him.

The rule Trump appears to have forgotten in this case is simple: don't make up quotes from real people who are capable of speaking for themselves. They tend not to appreciate it.