Trump and McConnell: Washington’s most powerful odd couple

Trump and McConnell: Washington’s most powerful odd couple

Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden signs bill to raise debt ceiling On The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan Schumer, McConnell headed for another collision over voting rights MORE and Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits Biden: Those who defy Jan. 6 subpoenas should be prosecuted Hillicon Valley — Presented by LookingGlass — Hackers are making big money MORE are Washington’s newest odd couple.

The two butted heads several times during this year’s presidential campaign, with the Senate majority leader at times admonishing Trump and at other moments distancing himself from his own party’s nominee.


In running an outsider campaign he describe as a “movement,” Trump for his part did not associate himself with McConnell, the epitome of an establishment Republican. Some of Trump’s most vociferous supporters in the media distrust McConnell’s inclination to make deals.

Now these two figures make up perhaps the most important GOP partnership in Washington.

President-elect Trump will depend on McConnell to move his agenda through the Senate, where the GOP has a narrow 52-48 seat lead.

McConnell will have an eye on expanding that majority in 2018, when Republicans have a favorable map in the battle for the Senate. He’ll also be faced with the decision of ending the filibuster to make it easier to move Trump’s agenda and perhaps to confirm justices to the Supreme Court.

“McConnell’s main problem with Trump may be his unpredictability,” said Al Cross, a professor at the University of Kentucky and a longtime political observer who has followed McConnell’s career.

“With Trump, he’s going to be a wildcard at least for the first few month. A lot will depend on how he handles his congressional relations.”

Personality wise, the two are about as far apart as one can imagine.

The deliberative McConnell chooses every public word carefully and doesn’t mind if people think he’s boring.

Trump is the opposite of boring. He loves a crowd and the cameras and likes to go off script.

Their differences were epitomized this spring when McConnell urged Trump to be “more boring,” or at least stick to his talking points. 

During an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” McConnell recounted a conversation he had with Trump at the National Rifle Association's convention in Louisville.

“We were in the green room and I said, ‘Hey, Donald, are you going to use a script?’ And he took it out of his pocket. He said, ‘I have scripts. You know, they’re boring.’"

“’Yeah, they’re boring,’” McConnell recalled telling Trump, urging him to use more scripts. “I said, ‘Put me down for boring. I’m in the boring caucus.’”

Cross said that Trump might have smoother relations with Congress if he delegates a lot of the relationship-building work to Vice President-elect Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceBennie Thompson not ruling out subpoenaing Trump Heritage Foundation names new president Fewer than 4 in 10 say US is on right track: poll MORE, who used to serve in the House Republican leadership. 

“We all really like Mike Pence,” McConnell told reporters Wednesday.

He said he would like Pence to play as active a role with the Senate as former Vice President Dick Cheney, who regularly attended the GOP conference’s weekly lunches. 

“I've mentioned that to Vice President Pence. And I hope he will attend our Tuesday policy lunches when he's in town and kind of be our liaison between the administration and the Senate, much like Vice President Cheney was,” McConnell said.

McConnell had fewer clashes with Trump during the campaign than Trump had with Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanJuan Williams: Pelosi shows her power Cheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge MORE (R-Wis.).

While McConnell endorsed Trump immediately after he clinched the GOP nomination, Ryan went on “The Lead with Jake Tapper” and publicly announced he was not ready to endorse Trump. Later in the campaign, Ryan told fellow House Republicans that he would no longer defend or campaign for Trump, prompting a furious response.

Republican strategists say that it may be easier for McConnell to work with Trump because he kept his criticism far more muted during the campaign and also has more solid backing from his own conference.

McConnell and Trump have very different backgrounds. McConnell has worked in government almost his entire life, first as an assistant to late-Kentucky Sen. Marlow Cook (R), then as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Ford administration before being elected as judge-executive of Jefferson County, Ky. 

He has served in the Senate since 1985, rising through the leadership ranks to serve as National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, Senate Republican whip and now majority leader. 

Trump has been a freewheeling entrepreneur in New York’s media spotlight for as long as McConnell has been in the Senate. He’s built spectacular hotels and casinos, bought an airline and named it after himself, survived various bankruptcies, and played a starring role in "WrestleMania" as well as the reality TV show "The Apprentice."

But while they have nearly opposite personalities and backgrounds, they share a keen desire to get deals done.

“They are diametrically different. There is not one bit of bombast in Mitch McConnell and there’s very little that’s taciturn about Donald Trump,” said Cross. “But they both like to make deals.”

Both also value loyalty. 

McConnell is well-known on Capitol Hill for having a close-knit staff and a network of former staffers who have remained loyal to him even years after leaving his inner circle. 

Trump’s family made up the core of his campaign team, something he acknowledged during his acceptance speech Wednesday morning. 

Trump backed McConnell ahead of his 2014 reelection campaign, when it looked to be a tough race, by donating $50,000 to Kentuckians for Strong Leadership, a group that backed McConnell. 

That donation came back to haunt Trump in January when Erick Erickson, a prominent conservative commentator, bashed him ahead of the Iowa caucuses for supporting McConnell. He accused Trump of being “disingenuous” in running against the GOP establishment. 

But it may have earned Trump some goodwill from the Kentucky Republican. 

McConnell told reporters Wednesday that he doesn’t let personal quirks and differences get in the way of taking care of business, saying, “I know you guys like to write these personality pieces.”

McConnell struck positive tone after meeting with Trump Thursday, beaming, “It was a first-class meeting.”

“We had a really good discussion about the transition issues that we obviously agree on. He’s anxious to get going early and so are we,” he said. 

Republican strategists predict Trump will soon come to see McConnell as one of his most valuable allies on Capitol Hill because of his knack for defusing tension and forging deals. 

“That’s his style. It’s low key, get on message and stay on message and don’t relent,” said Scott Jennings, a former political adviser to McConnell who worked on his 2002 reelection campaign. “I think that style and the style that leads to getting things done and engineering victories, Donald Trump is going to find very valuable even though they have different personalities.”