McConnell Ain’t Gonna Just Disappear Without a Fuss, Y’all!

Jamie Roberts By Jamie Roberts Jun6,2024

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) is on the way out. But he’s not going quietly.

A GOP free agent of sorts, McConnell helped convince Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) to back aid to Ukraine despite opposition from House Republicans. The effort led to another win in a long list of big legislative victories for the Kentuckian.

McConnell, who is nearing the end of his days as the Senate Republican leader, is speaking more freely, too.

He sharply criticized conservative pundit Tucker Carlson this month, saying he’d found a home in interviewing Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He’s also gone after Republicans opposed to aiding Ukraine, accusing them of being on the wrong side of history.

There’s no doubt that McConnell has lost a lot of influence in the GOP to former President Trump, who is poised for a return to the White House if he can defeat President Biden in November.

Even in McConnell’s own Senate GOP caucus, the Trump forces are growing. If Republicans win back the Senate in the fall, the number of Republicans aligned with Trump — and those who may oppose McConnell’s brand of foreign policy — seems likely to grow.

But that is tomorrow, not today.

For now, McConnell, whose favorite sayings include a version of “winners make policy, losers go home,” wants to preserve as much influence as he can.

Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist who has advised McConnell’s past campaigns, said his former boss realizes “you can’t die on every hill, because if you did, you’re dead.”

The GOP leader was notably quiet during the Republican presidential primary and avoided endorsing Trump until the nomination had all but completely been clinched.

“Is this the hill you’re going to die on when 60 percent, 70 percent, 80 percent of the Republicans in your state want Trump? Of course not. That would make you dumb,” Jennings said of that political tension.

In an interview Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” McConnell acknowledged his limited influence on his party’s rank-and-file voters.

“Even if I had chosen to get involved in the presidential election, what kind of influence would I have had?” McConnell told “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan.

McConnell’s views reflect those of other GOP senators who are skeptical of Trump but thought that there was little they could do to steer the nomination to someone else.

McConnell allies who were openly critical of Trump in the past, including Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.), who repeatedly raised concerns about Trump’s polarizing impact on swing voters, and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who last year said Trump’s time had “passed him by,” finally endorsed his presidential bid earlier this year.

Those two Republicans are now fighting to be McConnell’s successor.

A number of prominent Republicans aligned with McConnell have ruled out voting for Trump, including Trump’s own former vice president, Mike Pence; former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney; and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the party’s 2012 nominee for president.

Pence and Cheney are out of office, and Romney will retire at the end of the year, while McConnell says he plans to stay in the Senate through the end of 2026 and plans to play an active role in pushing back against what he calls the “isolationists” in his party on major national security issues.

Jennings said such a decision makes sense politically for McConnell.

“Trump won his primary, and it wasn’t particularly close. No one really ever got that close to him or challenged him for the nomination, and it’s obvious what the Republican Party wants to do — yes, there are chunks [of the party] that don’t want to do that, but I think at some level all these guys are party leaders, and they have to be somewhat responsive to the base of the party when it comes to nominees and other issues,” he said.

GOP senators and strategists say McConnell’s best chance of ending Trump’s political career came after Jan. 6, when he was in a position to attempt to convince 17 Republican senators to convict Trump on the impeachment charge of inciting the attack on the Capitol.

If 67 senators had voted to convict Trump, he would have been barred from running again for office. A week after Jan. 6, McConnell indicated he was open to convicting Trump in an impeachment trial.

But a Republican senator close to McConnell said there was no guarantee at the time that the GOP leader could have convinced 16 other Senate Republicans to vote to convict Trump.

And the source said McConnell probably wouldn’t have been reelected GOP leader in November 2022 if he had joined the push to convict Trump and bar him from future office.

Yet, McConnell hasn’t apologized for his excoriating denunciation of Trump on the Senate floor at the end of his second impeachment trial on Feb. 13, 2021, when he accused Trump of a “disgraceful dereliction of duty.”

“I stand by everything I said on Jan. 6 and Feb. 13 of ’21,” he told CBS.

A second Republican senator close to McConnell said the GOP leader had told his Senate Republican allies following Jan. 6 that Trump’s career in politics was over after stoking up thousands of his supporters to march on the Capitol.

Yet Trump managed to stage an improbable comeback by convincing more than half of all Republican voters that Biden had stolen the election, even after court after court dismissed that claim and Trump’s own attorney general, Bill Barr, told him there was no evidence of election fraud.

McConnell finally endorsed Trump in March, even though Trump has several times publicly insulted him and his wife, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, drawing criticism from anti-Trump Republicans.

One group, Republican Voters Against Trump, released an ad Sunday that took shots at McConnell, Barr and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, accusing them of “partisan derangement syndrome” for backing Trump’s presidential bid despite blaming him for trying to subvert the peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election.

McConnell bristled when Brennan confronted him about endorsing Trump despite denouncing him on the Senate floor a few years ago, as other reporters have also tried to do in recent weeks.

“You need to get better research. I was asked that question three years ago, if he were the nominee would I support him, and I said ‘yeah,’ because the voters of my party across the country have made a decision. As the Republican leader of the Senate, obviously I’m going to support the nominee of our party,” he explained.

Al Cross, director emeritus of the Institute of Rural Journalism at the University of Kentucky and a longtime McConnell observer, said the Senate Republican leader realized that actively opposing Trump might have even helped him in the primary, given McConnell’s affiliation with the GOP establishment.

“What he didn’t say [is] that it might actually play into Trump’s hand because McConnell has a very low approval rating among Republicans, and it would be further evidence of Trump being the anti-swamp candidate,” he said. “McConnell’s a realist.”

“To achieve his goal of getting a Republican Senate majority, they need to be able to coordinate with Trump, and if he’s adverse to Trump, that makes it more difficult,” he added.

A third GOP senator who asked for anonymity to discuss McConnell’s difficult position in relation to Trump said while McConnell and other Republican senators may disapprove of Trump’s character and tactics and view him as a weak general election candidate, they recognize that he is usually more in tune with the party’s base than they are.

“There’s no doubt about that. Trump is more in tune with, in touch with the American people than House and Senate leadership are, especially Senate Republican leadership,” said the senator.

“The House clearly because of their turmoil at least understands the frustration of the American people. I’m not sure the Senate leadership even understands the American people,” said the GOP senator.

Jamie Roberts

By Jamie Roberts

Jamie is an award-winning investigative journalist with a focus on uncovering corruption and advocating for social justice. With over a decade of experience in the field, Jamie's work has been instrumental in bringing about positive change in various communities.

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2 thoughts on “McConnell Ain’t Gonna Just Disappear Without a Fuss, Y’all!”
  1. Why is McConnell being so vocal now that he’s on his way out? Doesn’t he know winners don’t surrender the spotlight?

    1. McConnell, as a seasoned politician, understands the importance of shaping the narrative even as he exits the stage. Leaders who grasp this principle continue to wield influence beyond their official roles. It’s a strategic move to remain relevant in the political landscape.

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