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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.

Go deeper

McConnell may weigh in on Republican primaries

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell leaves his office at the U.S. Capitol on Feb. 8. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated in a Wall Street Journal interview Monday that he may become involved in the Republican primaries for the 2022 midterms.

Why it matters: McConnell and the GOP will have to balance candidates aligned with former President Trump, who remains popular among Republican voters, and those more likely to win seats in contested states.

GOP Rep. Kinzinger's family accuses him of being with "devil's army" for breaking with Trump

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Adam Kinzinger's (R-Ill.) family members sent him a handwritten letter in the days following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, calling him "a disappointment" for saying President Trump should be removed from office, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: The early admonishment highlights the political and personal risks now faced by Republicans who have spoken out against Trump. Most of the House Republicans who voted in favor of impeachment have been censured, a trend now happening among the Senate Republicans who broke party lines.

Updated Feb 16, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Richard Burr censured from North Carolina GOP after voting to convict Trump

Sen. Richard Burr in the Senate subway on Feb. 13. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

The North Carolina Republican Party announced Monday night that its members had voted unanimously to censure Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) for finding former President Trump guilty of inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol siege.

The big picture: Most of the House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump in January have been censured.