Although Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voted to acquit former President Donald Trump of “incitement of insurrection” in the second Senate impeachment trial, he condemned Trump in a speech afterward, echoing most of the Democratic accusations. McConnell effectively said he let Trump off on a technicality — that former presidents could not be convicted in impeachment. The former president did not take kindly to these remarks, issuing a scathing rebuke of McConnell in return.
The rift between Trump and McConnell is not just personal, it threatens to sever the Trumpian Republican Party from the pre-Trump establishment. McConnell doesn’t just need to mend his relationship with Trump — he needs to keep the party together.
On Thursday, McConnell took an important step toward mending the rift between himself and Trump, but it will not be enough. As PJ Media’s Matt Margolis reported, McConnell told Fox News that if Trump is the GOP nominee in 2024, McConnell would “absolutely” support him.
He insisted that there is not a civil war in the GOP right now, but there is a civil war among House Democrats. “The Biden administration is making it easy for us to get together, and I think we’ve unified in opposition to this administration’s extremely progressive approach,” the senator said.
“The Republican Party’s actually in very good shape. We gained seats in the House, we elected 50 Republican senators when everybody was predicting we were going to lose the Senate. The Democrats didn’t flip a single state legislature, we flipped two and picked up a governor,” McConnell responded.
“The Republican Party had a very good day on November 3. We’re sorry we lost the White House, but the Republican Party demonstrated once again this is a 50-50 nation, we’re very competitive, and we’ll be competitive again in ’22,” the Senate minority leader said.
While Trump did commit to backing Trump if the former president wins the 2024 primary, he insisted that it remains unclear how that race will shape up.
“There’s a lot to happen between now and ’24,” McConnell said. “I’ve got at least four members I think that are planning on running for president plus some governors and others. There is no incumbent, should be a wide-open race and fun for you all to cover.”
This interview set the perfect tone for what McConnell needs to do. He needs to demonstrate that the GOP is not divided but united in its opposition to President Joe Biden’s radical agenda. He needs to demonstrate that the 74 million voters who supported Trump are not implicated in the Capitol riot, and he needs to mend the rift with Trump, who will remain a powerful force in the GOP unless he does something politically suicidal.
The Capitol riot rhetoric is arguably the largest tick against McConnell. Democrats are attempting to weaponize the Capitol riot to demonize Trump supporters and launch a new domestic “War on Terror” that may silence conservatives. McConnell needs to full-throatedly oppose this effort, while still demanding the full prosecution of the rioters themselves.
The current moment is fraught with danger on this issue, and McConnell’s statement on Trump’s role in the riot arguably gave Democrats too much to work with.
McConnell’s theoretical support for a Trump who won the 2024 nomination does help, but the Senate minority leader also needs to fight the Democrats’ domestic “War on Terror.” As of yet, his highest-profile speech arguably helped that effort.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.