Mitch McConnell takes a decidedly dim view of Donald Trump.
The Senate minority leader views the ex-president as a has-been who will fade from the limelight the further he – and the public – is removed from his time a president.
That’s according to a new book by authors Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, who recount a conversation between McConnell and South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham
“McConnell said he saw Trump as a fading brand. Retired. ‘OTTB’ as they say in Kentucky – ‘off-the-track Thoroughbred.’
“‘There is a clear trend moving,’ McConnell said, toward a place where the Republican Party is not dominated by Trump. ‘Sucking up to Donald Trump is not a strategy that works.’”
That conversation reportedly happened in early 2021. And with the benefit of hindsight, it appears as purely wishful thinking by McConnell.
McConnell clearly believed that Trump’s actions on January 6 were disqualifying for him to remain as a leading light in the party. After opposing Trump’s second impeachment – for the role he played in the US Capitol riot – McConnell took to the Senate floor to deliver a speech that laid the blame squarely at the feet of the former president.
“There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day,” McConnell said.
McConnell, no doubt, expected the party – in the wake of the trauma of January 6 – to begin to move away from the man who had served as the chief provocateur that day. He expected wrong.
The intervening months have shown Trump gaining power within the party, not losing it. And he is showing absolutely no signs of disappearing from the national stage, choosing instead to use his massive following – and their unquestioned loyalty to him – to purge the party of those, like McConnell, who he believes have crossed him.
McConnell himself is at the top of that list.
“Under the weak leadership of Mitch McConnell, Senate Republicans continue to lose,” Trump said in a statement via his Save America PAC in late July. “He lost Arizona, he lost Georgia, he ignored Election Fraud and he doesn’t fight.”
“I have quietly said for years that Mitch McConnell is the most overrated man in politics – now I don’t have to be quiet anymore,” Trump said in another statement last month.
Trump is also agitating for an internal challenge to McConnell’s role as head of Senate Republicans, according to reporting from the Wall Street Journal. Here’s the key piece:
“Mr. Trump has spoken recently with senators and allies about trying to depose Mr. McConnell and whether any Republicans are interested in mounting a challenge, according to people familiar with the conversations. There is little appetite among Senate Republicans for such a plan, lawmakers and aides said, but the discussions risk driving a wedge deeper between the most influential figure in the Republican Party and its highest-ranking member in elected office.”
McConnell’s strength among his members is legendary and it seems unlikely that even Trump can change that. But it’s also clear that the former president isn’t going anywhere. And that his hold on the Republican Party – its base and its elected officials – isn’t loosening.
That’s true even as the former president continues to push debunked conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and as more and more evidence comes out that there was genuine contemplation of a coup in the final days of his White House as he sought to overturn the election results.
McConnell, ever the savvy strategist, is right that “sucking up” to Trump is not a long-term recipe for success for his party. But that’s exactly where the Republican Party stands at the moment.