The crumbled alliance between Trump and McConnell, who worked hand in hand on political and legislative strategy for four years, has finally brought the GOP to a reckoning that never happened after the 2016 elections. Trump could deliver another blow to McConnell at the Conservative Political Action Conference in the coming days. But McConnell probably won’t hear: According to Republican sources, he’s not expected to speak at CPAC. McConnell still hasn’t spoken to Trump in more than two months.
And interviews with nearly a dozen Senate Republicans on Monday night made it clear that it would take more than a war of words with Trump to knock McConnell out of his seat. Both Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) And John Cornyn (R-Texas), the two most likely successors of McConnell at the moment, support him loudly.
“Sen. McConnell has been the best Republican leader since I’ve been here. He understands this place better than anyone, ”Cornyn said. “I think he has the overwhelming support of the conference.”
When asked if he would agree with McConnell’s criticism of Trump, Cornyn said, “I’m looking forward to the day when we can do other things.” He said he has no plans to visit Trump in Florida, as Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) And House minority leader Kevin McCarthy have done in recent days.
Many senators have little interest in commenting on McConnell’s seething comments on Trump’s “neglect of duty” during last month’s uprising and Trump’s brutal assessment of McConnell’s “lack of political insight, wisdom, dexterity and personality.” Few share Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) And Graham’s view that McConnell’s criticism of Trump has become a political anchor that weighs on the GOP.
“Republicans have a big tent,” said Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.). “It is strong to have solid discussions. Disagreements are strong. And politicians will always go back and forth.”
“I support [McConnell]. I also support the underdog part of the party, ”said Senator Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “The greatest disaster would be if we parted in some way. That is exactly what the Democrats would be looking for. And most of us will make time our friend. “
For all the fanfare the Trump-McConnell battle has received over the past two weeks, the final referendum on who will lead the party won’t take place for a year, when the GOP Senate primaries really unfold. And McConnell’s willingness to enter the GOP primaries in this cycle against Trump-backed candidates whom he does not consider eligible for election suggests brutal internecine battles for control of the Senate on the Republican side.
In his bilateral statement against McConnell, Trump said, “Our America First Agenda is a winner, not McConnell’s Beltway First Agenda.” In an interview earlier this month, McConnell said the litmus test in the primaries is simple: Who can win the general election?
“It’s not about whether you like Donald Trump or not. The problem is: can you win in November? “McConnell said.
Since McConnell was only unanimously re-elected as GOP leader in November, he won’t face a leadership campaign until after the next election. He has won previous leadership races unanimously, despite occasional grumbling from senators like Johnson, who was essentially abandoned by the national party in his 2016 re-election race.
If McConnell is as toxic among Republican voters as Trump’s loyalists claim, it would be most evident in deep red states. But two GOP senators running for re-election in Conservative states, James Lankford from Oklahoma and Mike Crapo from Idaho, said they will continue to support McConnell as GOP leaders on Monday.
“People will have different opinions about different things at different times. It’s just a drama, ”Lankford said. “A year ago everyone said what a great tactician Mitch was.”
The Senate is not like the House; It’s less factional and there is no organized opposition within the Senate GOP to McConnell as the leader. Johnson said McConnell’s leadership position was “not even a question on the table”.
“When the leader speaks – he sure can speak for himself – he also needs to recognize that what he is saying will make the conference think about it,” said Johnson. “I didn’t appreciate what he said.”
“I’m not aware of any leadership challenge for him. I don’t know any,” said Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Who did not directly say he supported McConnell and suggested that GOP voters have already chosen the party’s direction. “There is no civil war for the voters. You have made your choice. You don’t want to go back to the party early.”
McConnell has just won re-election for a six-year term. And if he can hold out for another two years, he can compete with former Senator Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) As the longest-serving Senate party chairman of all time.
More important, however, is whether McConnell will oust Chuck Schumer as majority leader and be able to curtail Biden’s presidency again. It looked like McConnell secured a majority ahead of the Georgia special election, and it is clear that he did not fully appreciate Trump’s repeated attacks on the electoral process and the false claims of mass electoral fraud that dominated that race.
“One of my favorite things to say about politics is that winners make politics and losers go home. The reason we may go over $ 1.9 trillion [coronavirus bill] … Because we lost the Senate, “McConnell said in an interview this month. “And the reason we lost is, as everyone knows, so much confusion about whether even the vote made a difference that it undercut us.”
Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.