Trump, McConnell's Icy Relationship Just Got Icier

'WSJ' report says former president is seeking GOPers to challenge the ex-Senate majority leader
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 20, 2021 9:03 AM CDT
Trump, McConnell's Icy Relationship Just Got Icier
Then-President Donald Trump meets with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, left, in the Oval Office at the White House on July 20, 2020, in Washington.   (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

If you've been wondering about Sen. Mitch McConnell's standing in the eyes of former President Trump—well, it doesn't appear to be too high. The Wall Street Journal reports that Trump has been gunning for the Senate minority leader from Kentucky, working behind the scenes to find candidates to boot McConnell from the leadership role he's held for almost 15 years. Sources tell the paper that Trump has been having discussions with senators and other allies to see if there are any takers in that bid. The development is a "funny thing," notes the Week, considering "Trump's presidency would have been nearly bereft of accomplishment without the senator's efforts," including in placing three conservative justices on the Supreme Court and passing a $1.9 trillion tax cut.

The Hill notes the frosty relationship between the two men since Trump left office, starting with McConnell's lambasting of Trump regarding the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. "There's no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day," McConnell said in February, though he didn't vote to convict Trump in the impeachment trial that resulted. Per his part, Trump called in April for "good leadership," then indicated he didn't think McConnell fit that bill. "Mitch McConnell has not done a great job," he said in a Fox News interview. "I think they should change Mitch McConnell."

With the 2022 elections looming and both men's influence likely to play a role, they back very different candidates. The Journal notes that Trump rewards loyalty to him, while McConnell is more pragmatic, seeking GOPers who have a good chance to win in their states. One prime example of a Trump-McConnell face-off next year: the fate of Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who's up for reelection. McConnell supports the senator, while Trump, miffed at Murkowski for voting to convict him at his second impeachment trial, has thrown his weight behind Kelly Tshibaka, who used to head up the state's Department of Administration.

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For now, even if they are mulling a Trump bid to oust McConnell—he's in place as the GOP Senate leader until at least the next session of Congress starts in January 2023—Republican senators are staying tight-lipped. "Naw, I'm not going to get in that fight," Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, a Trump ally, tells the Journal, adding he thinks McConnell is doing a "good job." "I just don't realistically see that happening," notes Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana. Meanwhile, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham says he's dispensed a little friendly advice to Trump on the standoff between him and McConnell: "Let's focus on winning in 2022." (Read more Donald Trump stories.)

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