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McConnell steps up attacks on a weakened Trump

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is stepping up his attacks on former President Trump as Trump’s support dips.

The Senate GOP leader on Tuesday blamed Trump for the “candidate quality” problem that hampered the party’s bid to recapture the Senate in 2022, marking the third time in three weeks that McConnell has directly criticized the former president after repeatedly avoiding engaging with him over the past two years. 

The stronger pushback comes as polls show Trump’s support is slipping among Republican voters, a trend that has accelerated since Trump-aligned candidates lost important races across the country in the midterm elections. 

A USA Today-Suffolk University poll published Tuesday showed that 61 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters want someone else to be the party’s nominee for president in 2024. 

The poll also showed Republican voters prefer Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) over Trump as a potential presidential candidate by a margin of 56 percent to 33 percent. 

With Trump “leaking oil,” in the words of one GOP senator, McConnell isn’t wasting any time in striking back against someone who has repeatedly called for his ouster as Senate Republican leader. 

McConnell told reporters Tuesday that Trump was a big reason why Senate GOP leaders were not able to steer Senate nominations to stronger candidates in key battleground states such as Arizona, Georgia and New Hampshire. 

He had hinted at a press conference a week after Election Day that he thought Trump was a drag on Republican efforts to win back the Senate, but he made his criticism more explicit after Republicans lost another key race, last week’s Senate runoff in Georgia. 

“We ended up having a candidate quality [issue],” he told reporters Tuesday. “Look at Arizona, look at New Hampshire and the challenging situation in Georgia as well.” 

U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks was one of the candidates McConnell actively worked to get out of office while Trump pushed for his reelection.

McConnell said his affiliated super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, intervened in the Republican Senate primaries in Alabama and Missouri by investing money to defeat Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) and former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.

But he argued that Trump’s influence with primary voters made it very difficult to weed out weak candidates who had Trump’s support or embraced his false claims of a stolen 2020 election. 

“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. So my view was do the best you can with the cards you’re dealt. Hopefully in the next cycle we’ll have quality candidates everywhere and a better outcome,” he said. 

McConnell also took shots at Trump the previous two weeks when he criticized Trump’s call to terminate parts of the Constitution to allow himself to return to the White House and condemned Trump’s dinner at Mar-a-Lago with an outspoken white supremacist and antisemite. 

The leader’s stiffening rhetoric against the former president reflects the growing consensus within the Senate GOP conference that Trump would not match up well against President Biden or another Democrat in the 2024 general election and, if nominated for the White House, could drag down candidates in Senate races as well. 

So far, Sen. Tommy Tuberville (Ala.) is the only Republican senator to have publicly endorsed Trump’s 2024 presidential candidacy, which Trump launched with a rally at Mar-a-Lago on Nov. 15. 

Numerous Republicans went after Trump after he had dinner with Ye and Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist. Trump said he had no clue who Fuentes was after the dinner was revealed to the public.

McConnell questioned Trump’s ability to win the presidency after he had dinner with Ye, the artist formerly known as Kanye West, who has lost business partnerships after making a string of antisemitic comments, and Nick Fuentes, a prominent white supremacist and antisemite. 

“There is no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or white supremacy, and anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, [is] highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States,” he told reporters after Thanksgiving. 

The following week, McConnell observed that Trump or anyone else would have a hard time getting sworn into office if he refused to uphold the Constitution, a pointed reference to Trump’s call for a “termination” of “all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution” after new details emerged of content moderation at Twitter during the 2020 presidential election. 

At the same time, Trump’s legal problems are mounting, and GOP lawmakers think there’s a good chance that special counsel Jack Smith will move forward with one or multiple indictments against him. 

The Justice Department asked a federal judge to hold Trump in contempt of court for failing to comply with a subpoena to turn over classified documents he took from the White House. 

Trump’s family business, the Trump Organization, was convicted last week on 17 criminal counts related to what prosecutors said was a 15-year tax fraud scheme. 

McConnell’s stiffer stance against Trump also came after the former president encouraged National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott (R-Fla.) to challenge the senior Kentucky lawmaker for Senate GOP leader. 

Trump predicted Scott would “have a lot of support” if he challenged his leader, but McConnell defeated him easily in a 37-10 vote. 

McConnell and Trump haven’t spoken since Dec. 15, 2020, after McConnell recognized Biden as the winner of the presidential election. 

Their relationship really soured after McConnell excoriated Trump on the Senate floor for instigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, even though McConnell voted to acquit the president of the impeachment charge of inciting an insurrection. 

But after that scathing floor speech, McConnell kept largely quiet about Trump’s behavior and controversial comments throughout 2021 and 2022, when Trump repeatedly rehashed his false claims that the presidential election was stolen through widespread fraud. 

The family of the late Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died in the line of duty defending lawmakers on Jan. 6, refused to shake McConnell’s hand — and that of House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) — at a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony last week because they felt GOP leaders didn’t do enough to call out Trump. 

Tags Mitch McConnell Mo Brooks Nick Fuentes Tommy Tuberville
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