Hell hath no fury like a commander-in-chief scorned, or at least one who’s unwilling to let go of any slights—both real and imagined.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Donald Trump openly encourages politicians to either primary or challenge Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell’s position as minority leader. The most important prerequisite? Unquestioning loyalty to the former president. Fortunately for McConnell, no Republicans, including the president’s strongest Senate allies and most compliant Senate candidates, have expressed interest in supporting his vendetta. However, a rift between the former president, who owns the Republican Party’s identity in the base’s mind, and its most influential legislator, one of the most effective Senate leaders ever, could pose long-term problems for a party desperate to regain the reins of power.
McConnell first invited Trump’s wrath after the 2020 election by not acquiescing to the president’s demands that all “good” Republicans must question the integrity of the election he lost. Business Insider explains how their once-harmonious relationship became increasingly ugly after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
After Trump’s second Senate impeachment trial for “incitement of insurrection” for his role in the riot, McConnell declined to find the president guilty, but sharply rebuked him on the Senate floor. Later, McConnell said he would support Trump in 2024 if he were the GOP nominee, but Trump has not forgiven the minority leader for his speech.
A decades-long conservative voting record, legendary fundraising prowess, and, under Trump, an unprecedented ability to get conservative judges approved now mean nothing to the former president.
Back to The Wall Street Journal’s reporting, Trump sidestepped when asked if he was looking for a candidate to challenge McConnell’s leadership position (his next election isn’t until 2026). Still, Trump made sure to reiterate his opinion that Senate Republicans should boot him from leadership.
“They ought to,” the former president said. “I think he’s very bad for the Republican Party.”
However, McConnell has long possessed a strong grip over the caucus, especially on big votes like the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 bill signed into law in March that didn’t receive the support of any Republican senators.
Although Trump and some of his allies blamed McConnell for the humiliating U.S. Senate election runoffs in Georgia, election analysis from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed that Trump’s disproven claims of voter fraud contributed to 752,000 Republican-leaning voters staying home. Both Republicans competing in the runoffs lost by less than 100,000 voters, yet—in fairness, McConnell may have played a role in their defeats by blocking calls for raising the next round of COVID-19 stimulus checks to $2,000.
McConnell previously agreed to a $600 payment as part of a $900 billion stimulus deal with Democrats as the Georgia races entered the home stretch. Trump impulsively threw a wrench in the agreed-upon plan by publicly trashing the deal, demanding that the relief provided to ordinary Americans increase to $2,000. Democrats were quick to pounce and demand McConnell concur with the then-president. Facing highly competitive battles for re-election, incumbent Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler decided to rally around the idea of $2,000 checks for Georgians, but Republicans in Washington remained bitterly divided. Consequently, Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock were the only candidates who could unequivocally say that the federal government would promptly mail $2,000 checks to Georgia residents if Democrats gained control of the Senate.
Yet McConnell’s controversial debate tactic is only a secondary factor to why Perdue and Loeffler lost. A quote in the Journal-Constitution attributed to Craig Roland of Rome, Georgia, neatly summed up why hundreds of thousands of staunchly conservative voters stayed home on Election Day.
“What good would it have done to vote? They have votes that got changed,” Roland said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever vote again.”
Whether baseless voter fraud claims will continue to play a significant part in hurting Republican turnout remains to be seen.
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