At some point during the reporting of the newly released book Peril by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky seemed to believe Trumpism was just a passing fancy.
In the book, McConnell called Donald Trump “a fading brand. Retired. OTTB as they say in Kentucky -- off-the-track Thoroughbred,” according to the Lexington Herald Leader.
“There is a clear trend moving,” McConnell predicted, toward a Republican Party not dominated by Trump. “Sucking up to Donald Trump is not a strategy that works,” he added.
It's unclear exactly when McConnell offered those keen insights to Woodward and Costa, but what is clear is just how badly the GOP leader has misjudged Trump-era politics.
Though McConnell is correct that playing suck-up never works, Trump and his acolytes are presently running roughshod over the McConnell wing of the party.
Nowhere is this more clear than in the way Trump is already pushing GOP primaries toward extremism rather than promoting the policies and candidates most likely to prevail in competitive general elections. Trump's obsession with endorsing pushers of his 2020 election fraud lies is already narrowing the Senate GOP's chances of netting the one seat they need to regain control of the Senate.
At the same time, moderates and one-time "rising stars" in the Republican Party—such as Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio—are opting to retire rather than trying to swim upstream in a sea of GOP disinformation about vaccines, 2020, Jan. 6, and myriad other issues.
Trump has also succeed in bullying GOP lawmakers in swing states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania into initiating Arizona-style fraudits, ensuring that supporting them will become a litmus-test issue for every Republican lawmaker and candidate in the state. If there’s one thing Republican leaders have wanted to avoid, it’s having their message entirely overshadowed Trump’s election lies.
Any way one slices it, Trump's stranglehold on the party isn't exactly what one would characterize as "fading" at the moment.
In a candid moment several months ago, McConnell even admitted that he has no control whatsoever over Trump's involvement in the midterms, saying bluntly, "Well, he has his own agenda."
In the book, McConnell said the only way he imagined Trump and him "at loggerheads" would be "if he gets behind some clown who clearly can’t win."
“To have a chance of getting the Senate back, you have to have the most electable candidates possible," McConnell added.
Genius. Too bad McConnell didn't take the chance to bury Trump during the impeachment trial earlier this year. McConnell either didn't have the vision or the political juice with his caucus to finally put Trump away. But whether it was lack of insight or lack of leadership, McConnell missed his single best opportunity to render Trump "a fading brand."
Now, McConnell and the GOP—along with the rest of the nation—are paying the price for that incompetence.