Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell meets with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office in July 2020.
Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images
Trump advisors are trying to convince the former president to let his beef with Mitch McConnell go.
McConnell and Trump have an icy relationship that has only grown worse in recent months.
“I really the turning point was January 6 and that relationship has not recovered,” a former top McConnell aide told Insider.
Former President Donald Trump is reportedly vexed in his efforts to oust Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the latest chapter in the odd-couple partnership between the nation’s two most powerful Republicans that has seen them usher in generational change to the Supreme Court but has crashed back to icy uneasiness.
“They did accomplish quite a lot together,” Antonia Ferrier, a former top McConnell aide and now a partner at the lobbying firm CGCN, told Insider. “I really the turning point was January 6 and that relationship has not recovered,”
CNN reports that Trump is being told by his top allies to stop fixating on toppling McConnell, a feud that risks further dividing the party heading into what should be a banner year for the GOP. It doesn’t help that the former president hasn’t found many backers in his nearly year-long search for support for a new top Senate Republican who’ll pass his loyalty test.
“We’ve got to stay a team and the captain of the team is Donald Trump whether you like it or not,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Trump’s biggest congressional allies, told Fox News last week. “The Republican leader of the Senate and of the House — you don’t need to kiss Donald Trump’s ass, but you need to have a working relationship with him for us to be successful,”
Graham has stressed that while he respects McConnell, the two top Republicans need to find a way to live with each other once again.
Trump advisors see McConnell’s fingerprints on something that doesn’t even involve the Senate. NBC News reports that Trump allies believe McConnell is fanning the flames of the former president’s feud with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Trump, Axios reports, is piqued that DeSantis won’t rule out running against the former president in 2024. DeSantis later told Ruthless, a conservative podcast, that he should have been “much louder” about his criticism of President Trump’s support for a stay-at-home order early on in the pandemic. Ruthless is co-hosted by Josh Holmes, a longtime McConnellworld ally, which Trump aides say makes the whole situation fishy.
“There are no coincidences,” an unnamed Trump advisor told NBC News. For his part, DeSantis blamed “the media” for stoking tensions.
The former president must now choose whether he will spend months leading up to the midterms engaged in a proxy war, backing the type of firebrand, Big Lie-believing Senate candidates that he loves even if it risks leaving his party still in the minority. McConnell is all too familiar with how bad candidates can tank his party’s chances, for instance, having watched as Christine O’Donnell proclaimed she was not a witch in 2010 and Todd Akin talked about “legitimate rape” two years later.
The political marriage between the pair has always been one of convenience between two very different men. Trump padded his political rise on Twitter, the most ephemeral of social media networks while McConnell’s memoir is titled, accurately, “The Long Game.” Trump was known for collecting thick stacks of magazines whose covers he graced on his desk at Trump Tower. McConnell used to keep political cartoons of himself, delighting in how others would warp his personality or his features to cast him as the villain.
“He has an incredible ability to be a heat shield,” Ferrier said of her old boss. “He’s taken a lot of abuse over the years and he’s pretty thick-skinned about it.”
The high water mark will always be the confirmation of three conservative Supreme Court justices and 226 lower-court judges, shifting the judiciary rightward. McConnell plotted and maneuvered for years on how to stymie President Obama long enough to leave ample opportunities for a Republican president, including his virtually unprecedented gamble to hold a high-court seat open. Together, the conservative picks will make their imprint on the third branch for decades to come — a legacy that may soon include overturning Roe v. Wade.
But their bond frayed and may have been irrevocably broken in the months after the 2020 election.
Ferrier said the distrust only furthered after the GOP lost both Senate seats in Georgia. In the process, McConnell lost the one thing he values the most: his majority. And on the day the sting of the Georgia losses was beginning, Trump fomented an insurrection, which McConnell has openly suggested could lead to criminal liability.
It may seem odd that a former president who has a stranglehold on his party’s base can’t remove a long-entrenched incumbent from an unelected party leadership post.
But McConnell has spent decades learning how the Senate works.
“[I]t’s all moot when McConnell retains the leader post by acclamation,” GOP strategist Liam Donovan told Insider, pointing out that since 2007 McConnell has never once been contested for his top job since his colleagues unanimously elected him.
Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, analysis
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