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OPINION

For once, what’s good for Mitch McConnell could also be good for the country

Can McConnell — the ‘broken old crow’ — break Donald Trump’s hold on the GOP?

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnel's long game may be to delegitimize Trump, via the findings of the Jan. 6 committee, to the point where the former president can retain his base of loyalists but not expand it enough to run again for president in 2024.Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Could the “broken old crow” — Donald Trump’s nasty nickname for Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell — be the one to break the protective shield the Republican Party has built around Trump?

The Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol was so dark, disturbing, and different from the norm, that McConnell called it out in real time for exactly what it was: “This failed insurrection only underscores how crucial the task before us is for our Republic,” McConnell, then the Senate majority leader, said when lawmakers reconvened to certify Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election. Of course, after the base backed Trump, he recalibrated and opposed the creation of a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate the attack.

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And yet in a Dec. 16 interview with Spectrum News, McConnell said he looked forward to hearing what the bipartisan House committee investigating the insurrection will reveal. “I think the fact-finding is interesting. We’re all going to be watching it,” he said. “It was a horrendous event, and I think what they’re seeking to find out is something the public needs to know.” Since then, McConnell has made a point of directing the usual partisan poison toward Democrats, calling the move to undercut the filibuster “genuine radicalism.” He will reportedly be in Atlanta on the one-year anniversary of the Capitol attack, to attend the funeral of former US senator Johnny Isakson.

But those words — “something the public needs to know” — sent a message to those listening for it. “Mitch McConnell is suddenly legitimizing the Jan. 6 committee. But why?” The Washington Post asked.

Perhaps it’s just to torture Trump. As one top aide to a Massachusetts senator told me, “He hates Trump more than he hates us” — “us” being Democrats.

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Books that have come out since Trump left office document their contempt for each other. For example, on Dec. 15, 2020, McConnell took to the Senate floor and finally said, “The Electoral College has spoken. So today, I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden.” As Bob Woodward and Robert Costa write in “Peril”: “Trump called McConnell immediately and spewed expletives.” After more Trump cursing, McConnell told him: “You lost the election, the Electoral College has spoken” — and hung up.

If hatred of Trump motivates McConnell, love of power drives him even more. As Barack Obama writes in “Promised Land,” what McConnell “lacked in charisma or interest in policy, he more than made up for in discipline, shrewdness, and shamelessness — all of which he employed in the single-minded and dispassionate pursuit of power.” And power is what Trump is trying to take from him, by calling for his ouster as Republican leader. So far, Trump’s effort has gone nowhere in the Senate. But it may influence GOP voters. A recent Gallup poll found that 52 percent of Republicans disapprove of the job McConnell is doing as Senate minority leader.

Trump trashed McConnell after some Republicans voted with Democrats to pass the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill. He previously called McConnell a “dumb son of a bitch.” And he routinely calls him a “broken old crow,” most recently for helping Democrats lift the debt ceiling. When Trump first threw the nickname at him, McConnell called it an honor: “Old Crow is Henry Clay’s favorite bourbon,” he told CNN, referring to a fellow, legendary Kentuckian. It’s hard to believe he really revels in the moniker.

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No one writes about McConnell without noting the title of his autobiography — “The Long Game.” In politics, his long game kept him in power long enough to bend the Supreme Court to his conservative principles. With Trump, is his long game to delegitimize Trump, via the findings of the Jan. 6 committee, to the point where the former president can retain his base of loyalists but not expand it enough to run again for president in 2024?

For that to happen, the committee will have to get more Americans to look at Trump and see the instigator of an insurrection.

At 79, McConnell must have legacy on his mind. Will he be remembered as just another Trump lackey and enabler?

Based on his record, McConnell will first do what’s best for McConnell, not what’s best for the country.

For once, that might be the same thing. It’s a faint hope for sure, but in these dark days, faint is all we’ve got.


Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @joan_vennochi.