“McConnell has many talents, there is no doubt about it, but if he is setting this thing up as a way to expunge Trump from the Republican Party, that is a failing proposition,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, said Wednesday.
Johnson, who is weighing running for reelection next year in a highly competitive battleground state, said support for McConnell was already emerging as a negative factor among Trump-backing Republican primary voters he speaks with back home. He said the minority leader risked becoming a full-blown pariah for Senate candidates if he did not move quickly toward unifying the party.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, speaks to reporters on the fifth day of the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. (Stefani Reynolds/Pool via AP)
Credit: Stefani Reynolds
Credit: Stefani Reynolds
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said in an interview Tuesday night with Sean Hannity on Fox News that the fact that Trump and McConnell were “now at each other’s throats” was imperiling the political outlook for Republicans.
“I’m more worried about 2022 than I’ve ever been,” Graham said. “I don’t want to eat our own. President Trump is the most consequential Republican in the party. If Mitch McConnell doesn’t understand that, he’s missing a lot.”
McConnell’s Republican allies quickly circled around him, speaking in the void of his silence.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said McConnell was on “very solid ground” and that she had come away from conversations with him convinced that he was moving forward with eyes open, prepared for the “slings and arrows” that taking on a vindictive former president would attract.
“He’s not exactly a stream-of-consciousness communicator. He is very circumspect, very disciplined in his speech, and I think the speech he gave on the floor regarding former President Trump came right from his heart,” Capito said in an interview. She added, “His classic technique is to put it out there, say what he thinks and keep moving forward.”
Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, his No. 2 whom Trump has already promised to target next year, said in a statement that McConnell had “my full support and confidence.”
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said McConnell had expressed his horror at what had occurred. “I think it genuinely offended him what happened in the Capitol that night,” Cornyn said. “Obviously, he spoke his mind.”
Trump spoke his mind as well. In his Tuesday broadside that attacked McConnell in sharply personal terms despite their close collaboration over the past four years, Trump urged his party to abandon the Kentucky Republican. He also threatened to initiate primaries against Republican Senate candidates he believed were not sufficiently supportive of his agenda.
That is a possibility that worries Senate Republicans. Most are confident about gaining the one seat needed to take back the Senate in the coming 2022 midterm elections — unless their candidates engage in messy primary races that end up producing hard-right candidates who cannot win in the general election, an outcome that harmed Republicans in the past. Those memories have stuck with McConnell, who has promised to intervene in primaries if he believes a candidate is endangering the party’s chance of winning a general election.
McConnell’s allies acknowledged that Trump still had a hold on the Republican base, but one said that Republicans should still be able to come together in opposition to what they saw as a far-left progressive agenda pursued by President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats.
“The unfortunate consequences of Democrats’ power was on full display in the opening days of the Biden administration when it effectively fired thousands of union workers, when it canceled the Keystone XL pipeline and froze oil and gas leases on federal lands,” said Antonia Ferrier, a former communications director to McConnell.
Despite the heat of the current moment, some Republicans say they expect McConnell to weather the current hostile environment as he has in the past, aided by the passage of time and developments that diminish Trump’s hold on the party. They say he has survived challenges from the right in the past and stamped out primary challenges that threatened his preferred candidate.
“Two years from now,” Cornyn said, “things could look completely different.”