Fresh off his Senate GOP acquittal, Donald Trump reinserted himself into the national political arena with none other than a 625-word screed lashing out at GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack."
Credit where credit's due—the assessment isn't entirely off the mark. But it was the second portion of that sentence that cued up the 2022 fight to the death between Trump and McConnell. "If Republican Senators are going to stay with him," Trump said of McConnell, "they will not win again." He also accused McConnell of getting played “like a fiddle” by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and declared McConnell’s “Beltway First agenda” a loser compared to his own America First agenda. Trump’s broadside was entirely predictable after McConnell tried to absolve his own acquittal vote by declaring Trump “practically and morally responsible” for the lethal Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.
Overall, Trump's statement, issued through the pro-Trump PAC Save America, was a lesson in revisionist history. He took credit for the victories of House GOP candidates last November despite the fact that a decisive number of ticket-splitting voters rejected him personally at the ballot box. He 100% scapegoated McConnell and Georgia's GOP officials for the Senate runoff losses in which Trump helped thoroughly muddle the message of the GOP senators. And he claimed credit for McConnell's own reelection, writing, "Without my endorsement, McConnell would have lost, and lost badly." Oh, Trump also generously threw in a non sequitur about McConnell's "substantial Chinese business holdings," a swipe at both McConnell and his wife Elaine Chao, who has family business ties to China and resigned from Trump's Cabinet following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
But the lasting impact of Trump's first opportunity to refill the political air with his noxious fumes was his declaration of war on whatever is left of the McConnell wing of the party (frankly, not much, which I plan to write about over the weekend).
"I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First," Trump pledged. In other words, the price of admission in Trump's tent is ultimate loyalty—the surest way to boost the party's most dismal sycophants to any number of Republican primary victories.
McConnell, on the other hand, has been perfectly clear that his sole criteria for candidates is their ability win a general election. “I personally don’t care what kind of Republican they are, what kind of lane they consider themselves in,” McConnell told The Wall Street Journal. “What I care about is electability.” McConnell added, "That may or may not involve trying to affect the outcome of the primaries.”
But the 2022 Senate map virtually ensures that Trump and McConnell are on a collision course. A total of 34 seats are up in 2022, 20 of which are held by the GOP. With key races for control of the chamber taking place in swingy states like Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, McConnell will almost surely favor different candidates than Trump for some of those races. And even in races where they manage to agree, Trump's massive overcompensation for his flagging ego all but guarantees he'll manage to muck up the message for Republican candidates—witness Georgia.
McConnell declined to issue a response to Trump’s outburst, but he deployed his braintrust of former aides to channel his inner monologue.
“It seems an odd choice for someone who claims they want to lead the G.O.P. to attack a man who has been unanimously elected to lead Senate Republicans a history-making eight times,” Billy Piper, a former McConnell aide, told The New York Times. “But we have come to expect these temper tantrums when he feels threatened — just ask any of his former chiefs of staff or even his vice president.”