Former U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday sharply attacked Senate Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell, signaling a growing feud between the top two Republican voices after the party lost the White House and control of the Senate.
McConnell is a “gloomy, disgruntled” power politician “who doesn’t smile” and “if the Republican senators stand by him, they’ll never win again,” Trump said in a statement just three days after McConnell called him after the former president’s second impeachment reviled for inciting the fatal attack on the US Capitol.
Trump and McConnell split in the weeks following the November 3 presidential election, with Trump upset that McConnell recognized Democrat Joe Biden as the winner in mid-December. They have not spoken to each other since, a former White House official said.
The loss of both the White House to Biden and control of the Senate – which Democrats won in two surprise runoff elections in Georgia last month – has Republicans nervous as they ponder how to control Congress regain in 2022.
The gap between the two men widened when McConnell declared, following Trump’s impeachment acquittal, that Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
McConnell nonetheless voted in favor of Trump’s acquittal, saying he believes the constitution limits indictment and conviction to current public officials. The House of Representatives voted to indict Trump on January 13 for incitement to riot, but McConnell declined to reconvene the Senate for impeachment before its scheduled January 20 session, following Trump’s departure as US President.
Trump, who gave a fiery speech to his supporters shortly before the attack on the Capitol, denies any responsibility for the violence.
“The people who stormed this building believed they were acting at their president’s request and direction,” McConnell said in his Senate speech, adding he was outraged by the violence and Trump’s repeated false claims that his electoral defeat was the The result of widespread electoral fraud.
The two are trying to push the party in opposite directions – McConnell back to the roots of a budget-conscious, trade-friendly party, while Trump, who is still supported by a large section of the Republican electorate, advocates a more populist approach.
McConnell, who usually stays out of intra-party conflicts, told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published Monday that he would consider “trying to influence the outcome of the primaries” during the 2022 Congressional campaign season. He said he applauded Republicans of all stripes, but “what interests me is eligibility.”
Trump announced that he would also take part in the Republican primaries. “Where necessary and appropriate, I will support primary election candidates who advocate Making America Great Again and our America First policies,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.
A decade ago, when Republicans made a sharp shift to the right with the Tea Party movement, it was McConnell who pointed out that while the movement’s right-wing candidates won some Republican Senate primary elections, they often got lost in general elections.
During this era, the Senate’s Democratic majority grew to 59-41 by 2009. The Republicans regained the majority in 2015, partly because McConnell supported more moderate Republican Senate candidates.
Despite their current differences, McConnell played an important role during Trump’s administration in passing the 2017 presidential tax cut and confirming three Conservative justices to the US Supreme Court.