Mar 6, 2024 - Politics & Policy

What Mitch McConnell said about Trump before endorsing him

Side-by-side of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and former President Trump

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and former President Trump. Photos: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images; Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Trump received a coveted endorsement Wednesday from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — following years of bitterness between the two leading GOP figures.

Why it matters: The Kentucky Republican's backing comes despite his previous condemnation of Trump following the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. It also further cements the Trumpification of the Republican Party.

Catch up quick: The longest-serving Senate party leader's stamp of approval arrived days after he said he would be stepping down from his leadership role later this year.

  • McConnell's endorsement now means every powerful GOP leader has come to back the former president — who trekked even closer to clinching the Republican nomination after a victorious Super Tuesday.
  • The 82-year-old's endorsement followed shortly after former UN ambassador Nikki Haley suspended her presidential campaign on Wednesday.

Yes, but: Their relationship wasn't always rocky. In fact, McConnell had worked with Trump to transform the federal judiciary during the former president's lone White House term.

  • The two worked to cement the Supreme Court's 6-3 conservative majority.

Here's a brief background on how McConnell's and Trump's relationship soured post-Jan. 6, 2021:

McConnell: Trump "provoked" Capitol mob

Flashback: McConnell bashed Trump after the insurrection, accusing him of instigating the mob behind the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

  • "The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding ... which they did not like," McConnell said on the Senate floor.

Elaine Chao, McConnell's wife and former Trump Transportation Secretary, had been the first Cabinet secretary to resign in the immediate aftermath of the riot.

Still, McConnell ultimately voted to acquit Trump in February 2021 during his second impeachment trial.

  • However, the Kentucky Republican rebuked the former president in his post-vote speech, saying Trump's "actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty."
  • He added that there is "no question" that Trump "is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day."

Getting McConnell's backing

Zoom out: McConnell later said he would back whoever was the Republican presidential nominee, even if it were Trump.

  • "As the Republican leader of the Senate, it should not be a front-page headline that I will support the Republican nominee for president," McConnell said in a 2022 interview with Axios.
  • "I think I have an obligation to support the nominee of my party, and I will," he added.

Beyond Jan. 6

Friction point: The pair also became rattled in a blame game surrounding numerous GOP electoral losses in the 2022 midterms.

  • Following the GOP's failure to take back control of the Senate after significant losses in Nevada, Arizona, and Pennsylvania, Trump said the results were "Mitch McConnell's fault."

On the flip side, McConnell had also placed some of the blame on Trump, pointing to the former president's own influence on the races, per NBC.

  • "Our ability to control the primary outcome was quite limited in '22 because ... the support of the former president proved to be very decisive in these primaries," McConnell said.

Go deeper: Mitch McConnell endorses Trump for president

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