Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday made a slashing and lengthy attack on Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, calling him a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack” and arguing that the party would suffer losses in the future if he remained in charge.
“If Republican senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again,” Trump said.
The 600-word statement, coming three days after the Senate acquitted him in his second impeachment trial, was trained solely on McConnell and sought to paint Trump as the best leader of the GOP going forward. The statement did not include any sign of contrition from Trump for his remarks to a crowd of supporters who then attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6. Nor did it include any acknowledgment of his role during the violent hours in which his own vice president and members of Congress were under threat from the mob of Trump supporters.
Rather, Trump chose to focus on McConnell as he broke an unusually lengthy silence by his standards, after being permanently barred from his formerly favorite medium — Twitter — last month because of tweets that he posted during the Capitol riot.
McConnell’s office declined to comment on Trump’s attacks on Tuesday, but the senator has left little mystery about his contempt for the former president. Shortly after he joined the majority of Republican senators Saturday in voting to acquit Trump on the House impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection,” McConnell excoriated Trump, laying the blame for the deadly riot at his feet and suggesting that further investigations of the former president could play out in the judicial system.
“There is no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor.
His comments were widely interpreted as an attempt to minimize Trump’s brand of politics within the Republican Party, and to appeal to donors who have said they are rejecting the party after some senators voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s victory.
McConnell wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed article and gave an interview to the paper’s news section suggesting he might get involved in primaries for 2022 as part of an effort to win back the majority.
In private, McConnell has said he believed the impeachment proceedings would make it easier for Republicans to eventually purge Trump from the party. And he expressed surprise, and mild bemusement, at the hatchet-burying mission made to Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Florida, by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader.
In public, McConnell has sharply criticized Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the extremist freshman and Trump devotee from Georgia, while defending Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming after her vote to impeach the former president.
What McConnell has not done, though, is openly declare political war on Trump in the fashion that the former president did to him Tuesday. While telling associates he knew he would have to oppose the former president in some primaries next year, he had hoped to unify his caucus by turning attention to Biden.
But if McConnell wasn’t eager to begin an open and protracted feud with Trump, at least not yet, the freshly acquitted, ever-pugnacious and newly deplatformed former president was happy to do so. One person close to Trump said his initial version of the statement was more incendiary than what was released publicly.
In the statement, Trump resorted to insults about McConnell’s acumen and political abilities, and faulted him for Republicans’ loss of their Senate majority.
“The Republican Party can never again be respected or strong with political ‘leaders’ like Sen. Mitch McConnell at its helm,” Trump said. “McConnell’s dedication to business as usual, status quo policies, together with his lack of political insight, wisdom, skill, and personality, has rapidly driven him from majority leader to minority leader, and it will only get worse.”
Trump offered up some new taunts: “The Democrats and Chuck Schumer play McConnell like a fiddle — they’ve never had it so good — and they want to keep it that way!” he said. “We know our America First agenda is a winner, not McConnell’s Beltway First agenda or Biden’s America Last.”
While McConnell has faulted the former president for the party’s losses last month in both Senate races in Georgia, Trump maintained that it was because Republican voters were angry that the party’s officials had not done more to address his baseless claims of widespread voter fraud.
Trump claimed credit for McConnell’s victory in his own Senate race last year, and took a swipe at McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, who worked for the Trump administration as the transportation secretary.
“McConnell has no credibility on China because of his family’s substantial Chinese business holdings,” Trump said. “He does nothing on this tremendous economic and military threat.”
“He will never do what needs to be done, or what is right for our country,” Trump said, adding that “where necessary and appropriate, I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First.”
After Trump made his statement Tuesday, some of McConnell’s longtime supporters suggested that they knew bait when they saw it.
“Trump going total mean girl ought to feed the cable beast for weeks,” Janet Mullins Grissom, the senator’s first chief of staff, wrote on Twitter.
Others in McConnell’s intensely loyal circle of advisers, however, did not want such a bald attack to go unanswered.
In particular, Trump’s reference to Chao’s family is a line of attack that McConnell and his inner circle have long denounced as racist when it comes from Democrats.
The statement was the longest one Trump has issued since leaving office Jan. 20.
The former president has also been mindful that he is the target of multiple investigations, people close to him said, and has been advised against appearing to taunt prosecutors or people who might sue him in civil courts. Still, Trump’s ability to stay silent through situations that anger him tends to last only so long.
Trump’s advisers are discussing backing nearly a dozen candidates in primaries against the Republicans who voted in favor of impeachment, a move that would only deepen Trump’s friction with McCarthy. Not all of Trump’s aides think this is a wise course of action.