When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell first saw Donald Trump's pointed screed skewering him as a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack,” he laughed, according to CNN.
That's certainly the image McConnell's allies want to project, as they assure reporters in multiple stories the the Minority Leader is moving on from Trump, likely won't ever speak to him again, and remains laser-focused on one thing only: retaking control of the Senate in 2022. In essence, Trump is riffraff and canny McConnell doesn't have time for it.
What is undoubtedly true in all that projection is the fact that McConnell's every waking moment is devoted to reclaiming power over the upper chamber. Power is everything to McConnell and it's only fitting that it's the legacy issue he cares about most. "Mr. McConnell needs to be returned to his top role after the 2022 elections to become the longest-serving Senate leader in history in 2023, a goal the legacy-minded Kentuckian would no doubt like to achieve," writes The New York Times. The Times also reports that one GOP senator said McConnell might have triggered a rebellion if he had voted to convict—which is exactly why he didn't. But think about that—McConnell, worshipper of raw power, didn't have the political juice to lead his caucus and so he once again fumbled the opportunity to navigate a way out of Trump's wilderness.
Whatever McConnell wants everyone to believe about his cool, cunning strategery, 42 members of his caucus voted to acquit Trump and several of them are openly losing their minds about the Trump-McConnell schism.
Trump's chief sycophant, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, is beside himself trying to find enough adjectives to convey how invaluable Dear not-Leader remains to the party. Since the acquittal vote, Graham has cast Trump as the most "vibrant," "consequential," and "potent force" of the Republican party in various interviews. Oh, and don't forget, daughter-in-law Lara Trump is "the future of the Republican Party." (Talk about single-handedly killing your own credibility.)
Anyway, Graham fretted about the internecine warfare Tuesday on Fox News, saying, “I’m more worried about 2022 than I’ve ever been ... I don’t want to eat our own.” Graham said that if McConnell didn't understand how essential Trump is, "he's missing a lot."
Trump ally Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has been a little more menacing in his denunciations of McConnell. “I think he needs to be a little careful," Johnson said in a radio interview earlier this week on The Ross Kaminsky Show. "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 his comments, let’s put it that way.”
Johnson told the Times that McConnell could kill GOP chances with pro-Trump voters. “You are not going to be able to have them on your side if you are ripping the person they have a great deal of sympathy for in what he has done for this country and the personal toll President Trump has shouldered,” he said.
Poor Trump. The murderous riot he inspired has really taken a toll on him and his cultists.
But Johnson isn't wrong about the Trump-McConnell feud being a vote killer—he's just over-representing one side of it. Sure, pro-Trumpers have already proven they're not particularly jazzed about turning out in support of Senate Republicans if Trump isn't on the ticket. But on the other side of the equation, a whole bunch of once-dedicated GOP voters are abandoning the party over Trump's post-election rampage against a free and fair contest that he quite simply lost. Trump's months-long campaign to overturn those results, underwritten by the vast majority of congressional Republicans, has done incalculable damage to the party.
So however steely McConnell's resolve, Trump is still the noxious blow torch McConnell has repeatedly failed to neutralize.