Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell further distanced himself from Donald Trump while discussing the prospect of Republicans reclaiming the majority in the Senate, saying the views of potential candidates on the former president are “irrelevant” to him heading into the midterm elections.
The relationship between the two has grown more chilled since Trump left office, and speaking during an event with Punchbowl News on Thursday, McConnell seemed to indicate that the GOP will be able to ensure victory in primary races without his influence.
The seven-term senator from Kentucky stressed that the electability of nominees will be the determining factor in how Republican candidates perform in this year’s critical midterm elections — as opposed to where they stand ideologically on matters, including how they “feel” about Trump.
“We have to have electable nominees,” McConnell said. “How you feel about former president Trump is irrelevant. There are ways of measuring a credible candidate and that’s what I want. This is not an ideological litmus test or how you feel about the former president — it’s can you win in November?”
He added that he is optimistic both about Republicans having a “fully electable nominee in every one of the places that will determine our majority” — among them highly “competitive states” such as Georgia, North Carolina, and New Hampshire — and the overall chances of the party in regaining control of the Senate.
McConnell pointed to President Biden’s approval ratings — currently the lowest of his tenure based on recent polling — as being a driving force behind his level of confidence.
“I think what’s really going to be dominant in the fall is we know this is going to be a midterm report card on the performance of the president,” McConnell said.
His comments came amid the former president endorsing a slew of individuals in races nationwide that have expressed loyalty to him, several of which have attracted controversy. Candidates Trump has backed in some high-profile contests have failed to pull support, raising questions about his political strategy and his grip on the GOP.
The pair have had contentious exchanges since Trump lost the presidential election to Biden — and since then, McConnell has increasingly tried to separate himself. Following a report from the Washington Post that he declined a call from Trump on Jan. 6, 2021 — the day of the attack on the Capitol — he emphasized that the last time he spoke to the former president was the day after the Electoral College declared Biden the winner in December 2020.
“I publicly congratulated President Biden on his victory and received a phone call after that from President Trump, and that’s the last time we’ve spoken,” he told reporters earlier this week.
When asked whether he would get involved or weigh in on any of the primary races himself, McConnell wavered from offering a definitive response.
“I might, and I might not,” he said. “Since we’re not fully into the primary season yet, I can’t fully answer ... but could I get involved? Yeah, I could.”
McConnell also disclosed that he intends on running for Senate Republican Leader again. He is already the longest-serving Senate Republican Leader.