Trump ready to make McConnell’s life miserable
Allies of former President Trump say he’s determined to make life miserable for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Trump’s political machine, which has $60 million in a super PAC and an unmatched grass-roots fundraising apparatus, is vowing to go aggressively after GOP lawmakers in primaries in the wake of an unprecedented feud between the nation’s two most powerful Republicans.
Trump was prepared to give McConnell a pass, sources in his orbit stated, after he gave a blistering post-impeachment floor speech saying the former president was “practically and morally” responsible for the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol that led to five deaths and the evacuation of Congress.
But McConnell’s follow-up op-ed knocking Trump in The Wall Street Journal was the final straw, provoking a blistering response in which the former president insulted McConnell and his family and threatened to back primary challengers against GOP incumbents.
“Our goal is to win back the House and Senate,” said Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump. “We’ll be looking at open seats, Democratic-held seats, and maybe there are places where we look for upgrades and more MAGA-friendly voices. I have no idea why McConnell decided to lash out at the president this way, but when you do, you can expect to get hit back.”
Trump and his team do not have a list of GOP targets yet and are only in the early stages of sketching out a plan.
But Trump’s allies say McConnell has unquestionably made life much more difficult for many in his caucus. They say that in addition to anti-Trump lawmakers, some longstanding members that might not have had a primary opponent are more likely to draw challengers now.
“What he’s done has made it more likely that members of his caucus will get primary challenges and he’s undoubtedly made [Sen.] Rick Scott’s job at the NRSC [National Republican Senatorial Committee] much more difficult,” said one GOP consultant. “It’s a clear case of Leader McConnell putting his petty personal feud with Donald Trump ahead of the well-being of his Republican members in the Senate and it’s unforgivable.”
Trump had a 98 percent success rate in the 2020 primary cycle, according to data kept by the FiveThirtyEight.
In addition to his super PAC, Trump is surrounded by a small team of advisers that includes the firm launched by his former White House political director, Bill Stepien.
Trump’s allies say they’ve learned their lesson from previous rebellions, including Stephen Bannon’s 2018 anti-establishment push, and will look for more polished candidates that can win in primaries as well as in general elections.
In addition to recruits, they believe some primary challengers will emerge organically in response to Trump’s rallying cry.
They expect Trump will use his bully pulpit to clear crowded lanes of pro-Trump primary challengers to ensure the field is not divided against the incumbent.
Pro-Trump lawmakers say they expect a battle going forward.
“If you’re a never-Trumper, anti-Trump kind of person, you’re going to have a tough time winning in a primary going forward — that’s just the way it is,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.).
“President Trump still is the most potent Republican force and what should be happening is … as a party, you kind of revere and hold up your former head of your party, in this case the former president, as a standard-bearer,” Biggs said. “You don’t bury them, and you don’t try to diss them and all of their supporters.”
McConnell’s contempt for Trump dripped out of his floor statement less than a week ago, but the veteran GOP leader’s allies are downplaying the tension, saying they share with Trump the underlying goal of getting Republicans back in power.
They say there will be instances of overlap, where the pro-Trump and establishment candidates are one and the same. Former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), who is considering running again in 2022, is an example of a candidate with crossover appeal.
And they point to McConnell’s reputation as a shrewd political tactician to dismiss Trump’s call for new leadership.
“[Trump’s] not going to teach anything to Mitch McConnell about winning,” Josh Holmes, a former adviser to McConnell, said Wednesday on Fox News. “You’ll recall the Senate had majorities — big majorities — when President Trump arrived. They had a House majority as well. When he left, they had neither.”
The view of Trump and his allies is that those big majorities were built on Trump’s popularity.
Either way, McConnell has taken care to rip Trump and the mob at the Capitol, but not Trump’s supporters.
In McConnell’s floor speech, he pointed out that he was not disparaging Trump’s movement, only the former president’s behavior and the behavior of those that sacked the Capitol.
The Senate GOP leader appears to be trying to shake the party loose of the fringe candidates that have had recent success, such as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).
But Holmes acknowledged the chasm that has opened up and said it is in the party’s best interests for Trump and McConnell to be pulling in the same direction.
“The two of them working together were a great team,” Holmes said. “They’re going to have to figure out how to bring those two sides of the party back together again.”
Trump and McConnell could be working against each other at a time when Republicans have designs on winning back majorities in the House and Senate.
Republicans are deeply divided heading into the midterms when they should be united behind their shared opposition to President Biden’s agenda.
McConnell, who is used to having broad support from within his own caucus, has suffered some blowback for rebuking Trump, who remains enormously popular among Republican voters.
“[McConnell’s] speech I don’t think is a widely shared view of President Trump by most Republicans,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday night on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity.”
“They’re now at each other’s throats,” he added. “I’m more worried about 2022 than I’ve ever been. I don’t want to eat our own. Trump is the most consequential Republican in the party. If Mitch McConnell doesn’t understand that, he’s missing a lot.”
In separate cable interviews on Wednesday, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) called Trump “the most powerful political figure on either side” and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said the GOP must “stick together” if it hopes to have success at the ballot box.
“In this case, Leader McConnell speaks for himself,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said on the “Ross Kaminsky Show.” “I don’t think he speaks for the conference … when the leader of the Senate conference speaks, he has to understand what he says reflects on all of us, and I didn’t appreciate the comments.”
Elsewhere in the party, GOP moderates that voted to convict Trump are pleading with Republicans to move past the former president.
“I think we need to get away from the idea that the Republican Party is just one person and adherence to just one leader,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said on WMTW in Bangor. “Instead, it’s principles, it’s fundamentals that bring us together.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is up for reelection in 2022 and like Collins voted for Trump’s conviction in the impeachment trial, said the GOP is struggling to “find our center again.”
“If the Republican Party is no more than the party of a person, the party of Donald Trump and not a party of principles, that causes me to question where do I fit in that,” she told the Juneau Empire. “The Republican Party was a good party, a solid party based on solid principles I identify with. We were a good party before Donald Trump and we’ll be a good party after Donald Trump.”