Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had an instant reaction when seeing the lengthy attack he endured from former President Donald Trump.
He laughed about it, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The reaction underscores how McConnell plans to navigate the post-Trump era: Focus squarely on winning back the Senate majority – while ignoring the former President at all costs.
Indeed, amid their fallout following the deadly US Capitol riot at the hands of Trump supporters, McConnell has made the calculation that he’s done with the former President and is moving on, according to sources close to the GOP leader. And after Trump issued a blistering attack on McConnell, riddled with false statements and personal broadsides, the GOP leader has no plans to respond, the sources said.
“You probably are not going to hear him utter the name Donald Trump ever again,” said one source familiar with his thinking. “He’s moving on.”
Whether Trump will let him, though, is another question. In his Tuesday statement, Trump vowed to endorse candidates in Senate primaries who espouse his world view – something that could lead to a clash with McConnell’s preferred candidates as the seven-term senator pushes Republicans whom he believes stand the best chance of winning in next year’s midterm elections. But while Trump may put his name behind a candidate, McConnell is armed with a well-funded outside group, the Senate Leadership Fund, which stands poised to drop millions in key races to try and push the GOP leader’s preferred choices across the finish line.
Moreover, McConnell has privately informed associates that he plans to target President Joe Biden’s agenda, with a push to unify Republicans on the grounds that it amounts to liberal overreach, another sign that he sees Trump as in the rearview mirror.
The struggle underscores the divide among top Republicans over how to navigate the party post-Trump. Unlike McConnell, House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy went down to South Florida after the January 6 attack on the Capitol to meet with Trump at his golf club and later proclaim unity with the former President in his bid to take back the House in 2022.
“Today, President Trump committed to helping elect Republicans in the House and Senate in 2022,” McCarthy said in a statement after the meeting.
But McCarthy leads a conference where a majority of members are strongly supportive of Trump – unlike Senate Republicans, who are split over the former President and where some top leaders are eager to move past him and focus instead on uniting the party around ideas, not a person.
“The longer we are tied to a personality – the cult of personality – I don’t think that’s a good durable model for the future,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told CNN last week.
McConnell, who has not spoken to Trump since December 15 – when the GOP leader first acknowledged Biden’s victory, endured the latest broadside from the former President after his comments following the impeachment trial on Saturday. The GOP leader voted to acquit Trump, arguing that the Senate lacked jurisdiction to try a former president. But he strongly condemned Trump, saying he was responsible for the deadly insurrection and raised the specter that Trump was legally liable as well.
“Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty,” McConnell said on the floor.
McConnell, the first source said, decided to speak out on the floor based on the “necessity” that a Republican leader had to speak out about events that had alarmed clear majorities of American voters. Plus, McConnell didn’t want to leave the impression that a vote to acquit meant he found Trump’s actions acceptable, the source added.
Yet McConnell’s position sparked sharp criticism from Democrats that he was trying to have it both ways – and from Trump as well.
On Tuesday evening, Trump issued his lengthy rebuttal, bitterly attacking McConnell in starkly personal terms, accusing him of being a poor leader, even though the Kentucky Republican played a central role in some of his most significant achievements in office, namely confirming three Supreme Court justices, while often looking the other way when Trump endured one controversy after another.
“Mitch is a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack, and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again,” Trump said in the statement. “He will never do what needs to be done, or what is right for our Country.”
In the statement, Trump claimed McConnell “begged” for his endorsement last year and saw his poll numbers shoot up more than 20 points in the aftermath. Multiple sources say that statement is blatantly false, noting that Trump was even presented with a poll during a White House meeting last year showing the GOP leader handedly ahead in his reelection bid, which he later won by nearly 20 points.
But McConnell won’t take the bait and respond to Trump publicly, his allies say.
“McConnell is way too disciplined,” the first source said.