Mitch McConnell, who spent the Trump White House years alternately feuding and making up with the contentious former president, now seems to have a clearer vision of how to move the Republican mission forward: dump Trump. Maybe.
In the 2022 Midterm elections McConnell deferred to former President Donald Trump’s handpicked candidates in competitive midterm races, even those candidates that were widely deemed to be highly unacceptable in any political race. Herschel Walker, with a heavy load of baggage that included accusations of rape, violent behavior and having forced girlfriends to get abortions, is a prime example. One such former girlfriend described him as being, “a pathological liar” who “knows how to manipulate his disease, in order to manipulate people, while at times being simultaneously completely out of control.”
Yet Trump pushed his candidacy and muscled the Republicans to promote him. We all know how that ended, the “Red Wave” that was supposed to be a certainty never materialized—largely due to the quality of Trump’s hand-picked candidates.
McConnell now promises that he will not to let that happen again, insisting he will “actively look for quality candidates” to promote in the 2024 primaries. And this looks like it might even exclude Trump as the Republican nomination for the presidency.
In a rare and pointed criticism of the former president, who’s seeking a comeback in two years, McConnell said Trump’s power is on the wane and called on him to back off Senate primaries.
“Here’s what I think has changed: I think the former president’s political clout has diminished,” McConnell told NBC News on Wednesday in a wide-ranging interview in his Capitol Hill office.
The diminished standing has made McConnell — and by extension those who control the purse strings of the Senate Leadership Fund super PAC — “less inclined to accept cards that may be dealt to us,” he said.
“We can do a better job with less potential interference,” he said. “The former president may have other things to do.”
McConnell has another beef with Trump, he is convinced that he tarnished the party’s image among crucial independent and swing voters, who rejected GOP Senate contenders in the states that decided the majority. He said that the party underperformed in “every state” — including the red state of Ohio, which Republicans narrowly won — and that its performance was “fatal” in Arizona, New Hampshire and Georgia.
“We lost support that we needed among independents and moderate Republicans, primarily related to the view they had of us as a party — largely made by the former president — that we were sort of nasty and tended toward chaos,” McConnell said. “And oddly enough, even though that subset of voters did not approve of President Biden, they didn’t have enough confidence in us in several instances to give us the majority we needed.”
McConnell’s on and off feud with a vengeful Trump presents clear hazards for the GOP in 2024, particularly if Trump is its nominee. McConnell is well aware of that and is trying to steer clear of them. His solution is that he will not endorse in the presidential primary. He has suggested that Trump cannot win the nomination again, but as has been his wont over the years, is leaving plenty of room for flipflopping—once again. He is keeping the door open to backing him in the general election if he does win the nomination.
Perhaps McConnell’s delayed illumination on the damage that Trump did to the party doesn’t fool everyone. One commenter put it this way: “Like Pence, Moscow mItch had the ability to neutralize trump when he could but he didn’t. He is simply being the political chameleon that he is. He is only doing this because trump is down.”