Feb 16, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Trump: GOP senators “will not win again” if they support McConnell

Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell

Donald Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell. Photos: Getty Images

Donald Trump went scorched earth on Sen. Mitch McConnell on Tuesday, releasing a long statement that hammered the GOP Senate leader in highly personal terms.

Why it matters: The blistering statement is vintage Trump, who frequently lashes out at critics. But it also shows the former president's attempt to remain atop the GOP power structure will mean tearing down every perceived internal obstacle.

What he's saying: The statement from Trump's office was unsparing.

  • "The Republican Party can never again be respected or strong with political 'leaders' like Sen. Mitch McConnell at its helm," it stated. "Mitch is a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack, and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again."
  • Trump claimed that McConnell cost Republicans the Senate in January and that he only won his own reelection due to the former president's endorsement.
  • "McConnell has no credibility on China because of his family’s substantial Chinese business holding,” Trump wrote, in a vague reference to dubious allegations regarding the shipping business run by the family of McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, who also happened to be Trump’s transportation secretary.

Background: McConnell voted against convicting Trump on Sunday after he was impeached over allegedly inciting last month's siege on the U.S. Capitol.

  • McConnell nevertheless put some blame on Trump for the attack, saying the former president was "practically and morally responsible."
    • In a Wall Street Journal column on Monday, he blamed the attack on "the unhinged falsehoods [Trump] shouted into the world’s largest megaphone."
    • Those statements drew pushback from some in McConnell's own caucus. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he expected Democrats would use the comments against vulnerable Republicans ahead of their reelection fights next year.

Between the lines: McConnell is already signaling that he wants to move beyond Trump's support as a Republican litmus test.

  • “My goal is, in every way possible, to have nominees representing the Republican Party who can win in November," the Senator told Politico on Sunday. "Some of them may be people the former president likes. Some of them may not be."
  • Trump is determined to maintain his stranglehold on the party. "We know our America First agenda is a winner," the ex president said in his statement, "not McConnell’s Beltway First agenda or Biden’s America Last."

The bottom line: The most salient line in Trump's statement was his threat to "back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First."

  • Most Republican officeholders remain terrified of crossing Trump's devoted base of supporters, and that threat could be enough to tamp down on GOP dissent.
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