The McConnell v. Trump Dustup
The ultimate “Trump Test” will be the 2022 midterm election.
To better understand how the dispute between Donald Trump and now-former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), contemplate how we got here.
Ahead of the 2016 presidential election, I wrote that my vote for Donald Trump was a vote for Mike Pence, who gave the Trump ticket enormous credibility. I believed that a vote for the Trump/Pence ticket would be a vote for our Supreme Court, a vote for national security — standing strong against existential global threats, especially Red China — a vote for securing our borders, and a vote for economic policies that would be based on the principles of free enterprise.
I voted as I always have — as likewise do most grassroots conservatives — first and foremost for American Liberty and the candidate who would abide by his oath “to support and defend” our Constitution, the candidate who would best defend Liberty against the statist leaders of the socialist Democrat Party.
I have always been a policy voter, not a personality voter, and I was certainly not disappointed with the Trump administration’s policies. Trump followed through with his campaign centerpiece commitments — and indeed his success is in large measure due to the political craftsmanship of Mitch McConnell.
Despite my considered reservations about Trump at the time of his GOP nomination, what appealed to me most about his emerging leadership style was that he was a bomb dropper. As I wrote shortly after he took office in 2017: “The day he arrived in DC, he dropped a bomb on the status quo in Congress and its special interests. He dropped a bomb on the regulatory behemoths and their bureaucratic bottlenecks. He dropped a bomb on the trade and national security institutions and alliances that failed miserably over the previous eight years. And he dropped a bomb on all the pundits and mainstream media outlets.”
That resonated with me and tens of millions of grassroots Americans who were, and remain, fed up with the Beltway status quo. As I wrote ahead of the Republican primary in 2016, Trump harnessed the righteous anger of disenfranchised grassroots conservatives. The Republican Party’s conservative base was, and remains, Trump’s base, devoted to what he endeavored to accomplish.
A quick review of what we have written over Trump’s four years in office reveals aggressive and thoughtful support of his administration’s policies. You will also find the occasional well-reasoned criticism — most notably of Trump’s unmitigated ability to undermine his administration’s agenda, primarily with reckless and chaotic communication. I believe that chaotic communication during the ChiCom Virus pandemic largely accounted for his failure to win reelection — that combined with the Left’s massive bulk-mail ballot fraud.
But I would also note in this week when we lost a humble conservative giant, Rush Limbaugh, that “Limbaugh voters” paved the path to Trump’s 2016 election victory, and if Trump could have harnessed a modicum Rush’s consistency and humility, I believe he would have won reelection in 2020. Trump lost the popular Republican primary vote in 2016, and he lost the popular general election vote that year. But 2020 was his to lose – and unfortunately he lost bigly.
Fast-forward to the disgraceful Capitol riot on 06 January. I have strongly rejected claims that anything Trump said that day is responsible for “inciting” a riot. I believe that the fringe fraction of 1% of “Trump supporters” who resorted to the riotous thuggery were, in fact, “Trump wreckers.”
But in the context of all Trump had claimed since the election, it is no stretch to suggest that context attracted the deranged and fringe personality-cult elements who invaded the Capitol after his remarks that fateful day. Their narcissistic lack of self-awareness has done more to undermine the long list of Trump administration policy successes and advance the leftist agenda than anything Democrats could have hoped to achieve.
Nothing Trump said that day justified the Pelosi/Schumer impeachment charade, a theatrical farce.
But as I mentioned to our team, Trump’s references to Mike Pence were disgraceful. As the rage was rising, Trump posted to social media: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution…”
Historian Newt Gingrich corrected that record: “Vice President Pence was a profile in courage. He understood that his oath was to the Constitution not to a party, policy, or person. He did what he believed was right and he did so under enormous pressure. Whether you agreed with his actions his courage deserves credit.”
Astoundingly, Trump did not call Pence until days after the riot.
Moreover, I was far more concerned about what Trump did not say or do as his team was updating him real time on the Capitol violence — he did nothing. Consequently, as seasoned conservative political analyst Paul Mirengoff observed, “This impeachment was not a ‘witch hunt,’” as Trump claimed.
In Trump’s 90-second statement, his first but hours after the riot started, he could not suppress mentioning the claims that inflamed the revolting outliers: “We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. … There’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened where they could take it away from all of us. From me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election.” He concluded, “We love you. You’re very special. You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel. But go home, and go home in peace.”
Moments later Trump reiterated on social media, “These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously and viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly and unfairly treated for so long.”
It was a week later that Trump finally denounced the violence: “Mob violence goes against everything I believe in and everything our movement stands for. No true supporter of mine could truly endorse political violence. No true supporter of mine could ever disrespect law enforcement or our great American flag. No true supporter of mine could ever threaten or harass their fellow Americans. If you do any of these things, you are not supporting our movement. You are attacking it and you are attacking our country.”
But that was too little and much too late to contain the enormous political damage done to his administration’s legacy — and by extension to every one of us who have supported him for the last four years.
For the record, regardless of what Trump said on 06 January, it is the riotous Capitol jackasses, and other fringe elements across the nation that identify with their actions, who are directly to blame for the damage inflicted on all conservatives. But Trump’s “stolen election” protests were, and will remain, irrevocably tied to the Capitol riot, and by extension all of us who have supported him.
Arguably, the most effective and loyal of all Trump’s supporters was now-former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. It was McConnell who masterfully paved the way for Trump’s Supreme Court appointments before Trump was even the nominee in 2016, and he laid the groundwork for virtually all of Trump’s legislative policy agenda over the last four years, including his enormous tax cut bill.
And it is McConnell who is paying the highest political price for that support in the wake of the riots — and that is what erupted in the heated and probably irreconcilable dispute between McConnell and Trump this week.
After Trump was acquitted on 13 February, McConnell, who voted against conviction on the grounds that impeaching a former president was outside the bounds of the Constitution, then castigated Trump for his months of highly charged “stolen election” claims that preceded the Capitol riot. McConnell followed that with a Wall Street Journal op-ed summarizing his Senate floor remarks: “His supporters stormed the Capitol because of the unhinged falsehoods he shouted into the world’s largest megaphone. His behavior during and after the chaos was also unconscionable, from attacking Vice President Mike Pence during the riot to praising the criminals after it ended.”
Of course, Trump fired back with guns blazing: “The Republican Party can never again be respected or strong with political ‘leaders’ like Sen. Mitch McConnell at its helm. 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.”
Some are accusing McConnell of “betraying Trump” once he left office. However, I do NOT believe that McConnell has changed his views on Trump — I believe he did his best to advance the conservative agenda in the Senate DESPITE the obstacles Trump created, primarily with his chaotic communications, which were indisputably and irreparably destructive to his own presidency and agenda. I would add that though Trump blamed McConnell for the “Georgia disaster” and losing the Senate majority, few Republicans on the ground in Georgia would agree. Trump’s inability to motivate his base in Georgia, demoralizing them with election-fraud claims, is what cost the Senate majority.
The current dustup notwithstanding, the real issue with McConnell and the Senate ahead of the midterm elections is that it is time to pass the gavel to the next generation of younger and more dynamic Senate Republicans, as the House has done.
Moving forward, the real proof of who Donald Trump is will be reflected in his support for qualified Republican candidates who can win in states he won in 2020. Can he back those candidates without simultaneously waging chaotic and caustic fratricidal attacks against Republicans, undermining any opportunity to retake control of the Senate and House? This will be the ultimate “Trump Test” that will define his legacy.
Democrats are betting that Trump will divide Republicans. Despite claims they don’t want him around, they most assuredly do.
FOOTNOTE: Regarding the chatter about a third party, ahead of Trump’s nomination in 2016, when he would not commit to endorse whoever the nominee if not himself, I offered this admonition – and I offer it again: “If Trump is not the nominee, and decides to launch a third party bid, caveat emptor. Recall if you will what happened after the last wealthy Republican billionaire, Ross Perot, threw his hat into the presidential ring back in 1992. Unlike Trump, Perot had far more statesmanlike attributes and qualifications — and, of course, charts. But the result of his third-party candidacy was disastrous for the country. In a three-way contest with then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and sitting president George H.W. Bush (who had handily won his first presidential bid in 1988 against Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, and was riding high on the success of Desert Storm), Perot took almost 19 percent of the popular vote. That left Bush with 37.5 percent and a victorious Clinton with a mere 43 percent plurality. Some 60 percent of Perot’s support came from Ronald Reagan’s middle-class moderates, whom Bush had betrayed by breaking his famous "read my lips: no new taxes” pledge and by committing other regulatory assaults on middle-income families and entrepreneurs. Make no mistake: Ross Perot handed the presidency to Bill Clinton.“
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