McConnell and Trump
Jane Mayer has a piece in the New Yorker entitled Why McConnell Dumped Trump with the subheading: “After the Capitol assault—and after losing his perch as Majority Leader—the senator finally denounced the outgoing President. Was it a moral reckoning or yet another act of political self-interest?” I did not need to read the piece to know that that answer was “another act of political self-interest.”
Still, even with that spoiler (ha!) the piece is worth a read, and the entire Trump-McConnell relationship sits in the middle of internal difficulties in the GOP at the moment as well as Trump’s ongoing need to be noticed.
McConnell indulged Trump’s initial post-election behavior in a bid to bolster GOP voting in the Georgia run-off and gambled that if he didn’t do so that Trump might have scuttled those races. It was a gamble that didn’t pay off since McConnell is now the Minority Leader.
One of the most remarkable aspects of the Georgia run-off is that it is highly likely that if Trump had behaved like a normal politician and conceded instead of spending weeks casting unfounded doubt on the electoral system, the GOP would likely have won one or both of the Georgia Senate run-offs. But the relentlessness of his attacks almost certainly had three effects that were all to the detriment of the Republicans: 1) they helped motivate Democrats, 2) they likely turned some moderate Republicans against their own party (either leading to vote-switching or abstention), and 3) they caused some true-believers to stay home because, after all, the system is rigged.
In regards to Georgia, the piece discusses the way Trump directly intervened, including a meeting with Perdue of which I was unaware.
Days before the runoff, the insider said, the President forced Perdue to leave the campaign trail for a secret meeting at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club in Palm Beach, Florida. There, Trump coerced Perdue not just into taking his side on election fraud but also into supporting an increase in the size of pandemic-relief checks to two thousand dollars—a figure that McConnell and Senate Republicans opposed. If Perdue refused, Trump made clear, he might withdraw his support. At the time, a spokesman for Perdue’s campaign denied that Trump had pressured Perdue. But, soon after the Mar-a-Lago meeting, both Perdue and Loeffler began echoing Trump’s call for larger relief checks, placing themselves and McConnell in an embarrassing political bind. Trump, meanwhile, went on Twitter and attacked McConnell’s opposition to the bigger relief checks, calling it a “death wish.” The President’s behavior toward the candidates led the insider to a simple conclusion: “Trump is a thug.”
Gee, you don’t say?
What this illustrates, being Trump’s obviously mafiaesque way of doing business, is that Trump was out for Trump, not the party, as anyone paying attention clearly knows.
And the candidates and party leadership reaped what they sowed:
As it turned out, the Republican leadership’s complicity with Trump was not only cynical; it also may have been an egregious miscalculation, given that voter data suggests his unchecked behavior likely cost the Republican Party the two Georgia seats. The chaos and the intra-party warfare in the state appear to have led large numbers of moderate Republican voters in the suburbs to either vote Democratic or not vote at all. And in some deeply conservative pockets of Georgia where the President held rallies, such as the Dalton area, Republican turnout was unexpectedly low, likely because Trump had undermined his supporters’ faith in the integrity of American elections.
After the Georgia election, McConnell was free to pivot as he saw fit. And he pivoted pretty dramatically against Trump.
His speech on the floor of the Senate concerning the Cruz challenge of the AZ slate of electors was important because he spoke the truth. It is important to say that I think he did so not in service to the truth, but rather for his own cynical, self-serving reasons. But truth is truth regardless of the motivation behind its utterance, and what he said, many Republicans needed to hear (even if many of them still ignored said truth):
The voters, the courts, and the states have all spoken. They’ve all spoken. If we overrule them, it would damage our Republic forever.
So I believe protecting our constitutional order requires respecting the limits of our own power. It would be unfair and wrong to disenfranchise American voters and overrule the courts and the States on this extraordinarily thin basis. And I will not pretend such a vote would be a harmless protest gesture while relying on others to do the right thing. I will vote to respect the people’s decision and defend our system of government as we know it.
Likewise, McConnell spoke more truth earlier this week:
“The mob was fed lies,” McConnell, R-Ky., said in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon.
“They were provoked by the president and other powerful people, and they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government, which they did not like.”
Now, these truths are tainted by the fact that McConnell himself helped perpetuate doubt in the public, as Mayer notes:
in the weeks after November 3rd, McConnell continued to lend tacit support to Trump’s increasingly dangerous claims that he was the true victor. In a combative Senate speech six days after the election, McConnell declared that Trump was “a hundred per cent within his rights to look into allegations of irregularities and weigh his legal options.” He went on to scold the many public figures who were demanding that Trump concede. “Let’s not have any lectures about how the President should immediately, cheerfully accept preliminary election results from the same characters who just spent four years refusing to accept the validity of the last election,” McConnell said. As he surely knew, it was a false equivalence: Democratic politicians had raised many questions about the effects of Russian interference on the 2016 election results, but Hillary Clinton had conceded the race the morning after the vote.
His own hands are not clean when it comes to fanning the flames of insurrectionist anger. His words from the election until the EC voted were such that that encouraged the doubters to doubt.
Of course, getting what he wanted (judges and tax cuts) and being unable to get anything else from Trump once the Georgia run-off had taken place, he has shifted his rhetoric. In addition to the above-noted statements on the Senate floor, McConnell has also signaled some support for the impeachment effort. (And the fact that his wife resigned from the cabinet was also a signal).
In the days after the Capitol attack, as horrifying footage emerged of marauders ransacking the building and chanting, “Hang Mike Pence!” and “Treason!,” McConnell, through a series of anonymously sourced reports in major news outlets, distanced himself even further from the President. As a prominent Republican strategist noted, “Nothing’s ever happenstance with McConnell”—and so each report was taken as a Delphic signal. On January 12th, the Times published a headline declaring that McConnell was “said to be pleased” about the Democrats’ intention to impeach the President a second time. Unnamed associates revealed to reporters on Capitol Hill that McConnell was no longer speaking to Trump, and might vote to convict him if the impeachment process moved to a Senate trial. On January 13th, ten Republican members of the House of Representatives joined the Democrats in impeaching Trump, for “incitement of insurrection.” Soon afterward, McConnell made clear to his Republican colleagues that he regarded impeachment as a matter of individual conscience, not one of party loyalty.
To me, the issue for McConnell and the GOP is this: how many of them want to rid themselves of Trump and how many fear his influence over the 2022 GOP primaries specifically?
Conviction in the Senate will lead to Trump being barred from running again (I cannot imagine him being convicted and the body not then voting to deny him further access to office). That would clear the field for a number of Republicans to run for the nomination in 2024 without worrying about Trump running. It would also lessen press interest in Trump, as he will garner more coverage if he is a potential candidate. It is also harder to raise funds if one can’t run (not that he isn’t gifting in the grift).
I wonder, too, if talk of forming a new political party will die out if Trump himself can’t be a candidate (of course, if enough Republicans vote against Trump in the Senate, that might incentivize him to create a new party out of spite). A third party is a bad idea from the perspective of current GOP office-holders, and I don’t know what good it would really do for Trump, as he is still arguably the leader of the Republican Party.
In regards to the potential for a Patriot Party, WaPo reports: Trump jumps into a divisive battle over the Republican Party — with a threat to start a ‘MAGA Party’.
In recent weeks, Trump has entertained the idea of creating a third party, called the Patriot Party, and instructed his aides to prepare election challenges to lawmakers who crossed him in the final weeks in office, including Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.), according to people familiar with the plans.
The thing is, and this shows Trump’s lack of political acumen, all that a third party challenge would do in most of these cases would be to simply hand the race to the Democrats–it certainly would in Georgia and might in South Carolina. In the case of Alaska, it would likely have no effect, especially with their new electoral rules. I am unclear on how it would help oust Cheney in WY, for that matter.
The smart play in our system is not forming a Third Party, it is funding a serious primary challenger (at least if the goal is to, you know, win the election). Although, that may be on the table as well:
Multiple people in Trump’s orbit, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, say Trump has told people that the third-party threat gives him leverage to prevent Republican senators from voting to convict him during the Senate impeachment trial. Trump advisers also say they plan to recruit opposing primary candidates and commission polling next week in districts of targeted lawmakers. Trump has more than $70 million in campaign cash banked to fund his political efforts, these people say.
Financing primary challenges would be the right move, if Trump wants to influence these races and so the Patriot Party seems extremely unlikely. But I would not put it past him to make the wrong investment here.
Speaking of money and back to McConnell’s concerns, there is also the fact that the capitol insurrection upsets a lot of donors. From the Mayer piece:
After the January 6th insurrection, dozens of the largest corporate campaign donors, including A.T. & T., Comcast, and Honeywell, used their cash to send a message: their political action committees would no longer contribute to the hundred and forty-seven Republican representatives and senators who had opposed certification of the Presidential election even after the Capitol riot, on the spurious ground that the process had been less than fair. Even Koch Industries, the huge oil-refining conglomerate that has served as the conservative movement’s piggy bank for decades, said that it was reëvaluating its political contributions. McConnell, who once infamously declared that the three most important ingredients for political success in America are “money,” “money,” and “money,” was reportedly alarmed. A spokesperson for McConnell denies this, but, according to the Associated Press, he spent much of the weekend after the Capitol assault talking with colleagues and the Republican Party’s wealthy corporate donors, promising that he, too, was finally done with Trump.
Truth be told, Trump is a wrecking ball and the GOP deserves the chaos they are getting from him. And all of McConnell’s machinations are designed to lessen the damage. His turn towards truthtelling of late is a good example of the convergence of interests leading to good outcomes, even if the politician in question is not acting out of, to use a phrase from the beginning of all of this, moral reckoning.
The country will be served if McConnell and sixteen other Republicans believe that they are better off without Trump and vote to convict and for him to be disgraced and barred from further running, regardless of their motives. I do not think that to be the likely outcome, but I do think the chances that it happens is greater than zero.
I think a lot of this hinges on what will motivate Trump to remain involved in politics (and what GOP Senators think he thinks). Will the possibility of at least playing at a 2024 run be sufficiently enticing (both as an ego boost and a source of revenue) to keep him active or will revenge on GOPers who had the audacity to vote against him be a greater motivation if his 2024 pathway is taken away from him?
In other words: would taking away 2024 demotivate him or further motivate him?
McConnell is currently having to do a lot of political calculations.
One thing is for sure: the Republicans brought this chaos upon their own heads and deserve all the distress and dismay it is causing them. Of course, the problem is that the rest of us had to endure the last four years and will be caught in the wake of current GOP travails.
There won’t be a Patriot (sic) Party to split the GOPs. God doesn’t love me that much.
One good thing that could come out of a Trump third party is more Republicans getting on board with the ranked-choice idea.
It’s not clear that he is choosing the larger side of his party when he does speaks out against Trump. The primary voters are definitely on the Trumpy side, so the candidates in 2022 will be Trumpy and the smart move from a short-term political approach might be to minimize, accuse the Democrats of bad faith and muddy the waters, to try to sell the shitty candidates in two years to the less rabid voters in the general election.
They’re going to get there soon enough.
This is going to be like Rudy Giuliani leading a police riot and then it falling down the memory hole by the time he was running for mayor. (“Rudy couldn’t see what was happening from the stage.”, “Rudy has always been colorful.”, etc.)
My idiot brothers are already convinced it was nothing, as they’ve been slowly getting more and more Trumpy over the past 4 years. The narrative they get from their Facebook shit is that no judge was willing to hear the massive amount of evidence Trump had about election fraud because they were worried Antifa and BLM would burn their cities down, Trump spoke to a rally, the rally gently pushed past the capitol police (except for the Antifa, and a few crazies) but stayed within the velvet ropes, and that Trump stepped down rather than tear the country apart because he’s a great man who loves his country and anything else is fake news.
I want to get my brothers into full QAnon, so when nothing happens it’s a nothing so profound that they cannot ignore it, and then they are disappointed and sad.
Also, apparently Schumer said erection instead of election and it’s the funniest thing to them. I’m glad my family moved out of the house with the lead paint before I had a chance to eat it — they’re older than me, and I’m betting they ate a lot of it.
They deserve so much worse than they are going to get. Unless Biden decides to declare them enemy combatants and order drone strikes, but that doesn’t seem like Biden.
a few things spring to mind:
1) What makes anyone think trump won’t run in 2024 just because he’s legally forbidden from doing so? That is, if the Senate Republicans even can get that far, which they probably won’t.
2) He may not aim to found a new party for political purposes, as much as financial ones. He’d own the party, pay no taxes for it, and could pay himself whatever he wanted as party CEO or whatever title he chooses.
3) He may just want his own party so he can hold rallies whenever he wants, while donors pay for them, and feed his insatiable ego.
4) Like the scorpion in the fable, he has to act according to his nature. He will always do what’s best for Trump, and he will always do it in a self-destructive way.
This country is going to be digging itself out of the wreckage Trump created long after most of us here are dead.
It seems to me that the answer to “Was it a moral reckoning or yet another act of political self-interest?” is Yes.
I think McConnell would have vastly preferred a President Jeb Bush, President John Kasich, or even President Marco Rubio to a President Donald Trump but he got what he got and made the best of it. It would have been political suicide—and frankly malfeasance to the Kentuckians who elected him—not to maximize the benefit of a president of his own party.
Still, while McConnell is a shameless politician willing to use whatever tools he has to maximum advantage, I think he was genuinely outraged by the attempt to steal the election and, certainly, fomenting a riot in his workplace.
Given that Trump is gone, I’m sure his vote to convict—and, presumably, thereby give cover to others—will hinge on how he thinks it impacts his career. But few politicians are heroes.
Well, it’s not as if Trump has ever made a bad investment before….oh, wait…
McConnell has never managed–or should I say bothered–to keep his utter contempt for Trump hidden. One day early in the Trump maladministration I saw a photograph of McConnell leaving a meeting with Trump. He was wearing a little smile that said it all: “This guy is a low-grade moron.”
Trump was McConnell’s useful idiot. Now that Trump is no longer useful and merely an idiot…
He is so the scorpion in the fable and the republican party is the frog.
Trump will continue to plot his return/revenge from
ElbaMar-a-Lago until he is engulfed in his own criminal and financial house of cards. For the casual observer, the failsons and princess have disappeared from public view and given that they will be collateral damage from the fall of the house of trump, this will pass.
The R establishment may best proceed by letting the trumpian drama play out and concentrate on throttling others, Cruz, Hawley and Rubio, for instance, who seek to continue the white supremacist/populist tilt of the party
@James Joyner: I just don’t think any of McConnell’s actions are because he has come to a moment of moral clarity.
I don’t trust that he saw the light as much as he has seen the political damage Trump is doing to McC’s version of the GOP. I just see no evidence for that in his behavior.
He wouldn’t be able to be on the ballot, hence he couldn’t run. He also would not be able to raise campaign funds. Now, he could run around and say he was running and raise money in other ways, but he literally could not run for the presidency or any other federal office if he was convicted and then barred from doing so.
I think what you are describing is fraught with legal pitfalls that I expect Trump and his cronies would fall into. This is like saying a person can set up a charity and own it. He would better off setting up a church, TBH.
Of this, there is no doubt. (The same could be said of running for 2024). The thing it, if he can’t be a candidate, it will hurt his brand.
@Kathy: Put another way: I think it is a mistake to pretend like Trump can divorce the attention, the rallies, and the donations from some connection to running for office. His appeal is connected directly to being a candidate and then having been president.
Much of that is already taken away, because he lost and because people tend not to get super-excited about a candidate this many years out. It is the preseason (if not, really, OTAs at best) and while some fans go to preseason games and watch them on TV, the overall level of enthusiasm is markedly lower.
@Chris Parton: Indeed.
Plus, the phrase “you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas” is constantly rolling through my head when I write this stuff.
I find it a bit odd that all the analyses of this I see focus almost exclusively on all the ways that Trump could hurt the GOP going forward and describe the GOP trying to manage those risks from a defensive crouch. In reality, McConnell and the GOP have plenty of sticks to hit back with if they want to play offense. I mean, basically the only thing standing between Trump and an orange jumpsuit and/or financial ruin is the potential political fallout of investigating and prosecuting him and his cronies (including Ivanka, Jared, Don Jr., Eric, et. al). The Senate GOP can choose to obstruct such investigations/prosecutions and dial up the political price for pursuing them, they can stand aside and let them happen, or they can actively facilitate them, all depending on how much Trump behaves himself.
If I were McConnell, I’d be making it very clear to Trump that if he hits the GOP, the GOP is going to stand aside and watch, or even actively assist, as the Dems, the DoJ, the IRS, and the various state AGs bring the hammer down on him. That will likely shut him up quick.
The part all of this misses is that Trump is part of the GOP. That is kind of the point. Further, Trump may have more sway than McC.
But, and this is key, no one truly controls the party. There is no singular leader to tell people to “stand aside” or do anything else. This whole situation is about maneuvering the 2022 primaries, which is where we will see, for sure, where the party is headed.
In terms of candidate messaging and voter behavior, sure, but the public doesn’t follow or even understand all the procedural trench warfare that goes on in the Senate, and GOP voters likely wouldn’t have the faintest idea whether McConnell and the rest of the GOP establishment wing in the Senate rolled over on investigations, “allowed” just enough of their caucus members from purple states to give a semblance of bipartisan cover to the inquiries, etc. Beyond the investigations themselves, McConnell and the GOP can tie the Biden Administration up in knots on any number of unrelated fronts as leverage to indirectly discourage investigations, or they can treat the investigations as a discrete issue and let everything else proceed normally, and GOP voters would almost certainly have no clue either way.
Anyway, my point is just that there’s a very wide space between the Senate GOP having a “come to Jesus” moment and going all-in to attack Trump, on the one hand, and defending him to the last breath with every procedural tool at their disposal, on the other, and McConnell and the Senate GOP leadership can adjust their position within that space not only as a defensive tactic to appease the Trump wing of the party but also as an offensive tactic to pressure Trump himself to sit down and shut up.
What Steven said. Put another way, I think you completely misreading the dynamic. Virtually every House member from a Trump State felt they had to actively support him in order to retain the loyalty of their voters. They made the calculation and concluded that “not attacking him” was insufficient. They had to very publicly carry his water.
@Steven L. Taylor:
That’s an argument that would sway any reasonable person. Like, for instance, the argument that the VP cannot change the electoral count, therefore it would be folly to put the onus on Pence to do so anyway.
trump has never been wrong in his life, by his own reckoning. Therefore if he says one thing and the law disagrees, the law must be wrong. It’s not that he’ll sue, that goes without saying. It’s that he will still try, if that’s what he wants*, even after the courts either dismiss the case or rule against him.
*I figure like other children his age, Trump will want anything triply so if he’s told he can’t or shouldn’t have it.
The GOP’s worst nightmare.
@Steven L. Taylor: “This is like saying a person can set up a charity and own it.”
Yeah, Trump would never think anything like that.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Respectfully, as you’re an expert and I admit I’m not, I believe this is only about half right. There is no one party boss who can dictate. But there is a smallish, loose collective who can, sometimes, heavily influence.
The Republican Party is still heavily dependent on major donors. As I’ve learned from you and James, candidacy is largely entrepreneurial. Anyone can claim to be a Republican and enter a primary without the imprimatur of party bosses. And Trump did. But most prez candidates had to kiss Adelson’s ring or find some other billionaire backer. I suspect this is still true with Miriam wearing the late Sheldon’s ring. The Club for Growth (sic) is famous for backing primary challenges. I’ve read that they’re now largely Koch funded. (It’s not only Koch, of course, but it’s good to put a face on the enemy.)
Were Charles Koch, Richard Mercer, Miriam Adelson, and/or maybe a dozen others, possibly including Oleg Derepaska, to call McConnell and say they want Trump impeached, he would be impeached.
@Kylopod: where is that from?
@Steven L. Taylor:
Please don’t give him any ideas. Churches already have a bad enough reputation without adding more MAGA to them. 😉
But how do they throttle that wing of the party? Ok, Rubio is too short, so he takes care of himself, but beyond that… when the primary electorate rewards the person who is the biggest asshole and who says the worst thing about the people the base dislikes, how do you control that?
At the state level, it’s successfully promoting horrible people who don’t have Trump’s “charm” and are then being elected, so they aren’t paying a price there. It used to be you would just get crazies in the House because of gerrymandering, but Hawley, Tuberville, Cotton and Cruz are all flaming assholes who won at the state level.
If we’re lucky, this will be restricted to very red states. But I don’t see a reason to believe we will be lucky while so many people get their news from liars.
And if it works at the state level… I fully expect to see Ted Cruz basking in glee as a crowd chants “Lock Her Up!” (Harris is a black woman, so she will get the focus). On the plus side, it will be a good day for the Canadian-born Latino community in the US, as they will have graduated to White(tm).
I’ll try and play Trump’s side.
1) I create a PAC whose only real purpose is to create and award a Trump Stamp of Approval. Literally an icon a candidate can add to their web site, Twitter, etc…
2) I raise money off the yahoos and offer it in campaign donations, but only to candidates who have earned the Trump Stamp. In addition, Trump Stamped candidates get access to Trump’s donor network, others don’t.
3) In primaries the presence or absence of a Trump Stamp proves decisive. Candidates who win with the Trump Stamp form a caucus in the House and Senate.
4) In 2022 the GOP keeps what it has in the House, 211 seats. Of those 125 are Trump Stamped. In the Senate let’s say they drop to 48 seats and 25 of those are Trump Stamped candidates. The Trump Stamp Caucuses choose the minority leaders.
5) If the GOP fails to submit immediately, I threaten to form a third party and the GOP either submits or we have a party schism.
McConnell sees this coming and behind the scenes urges prosecution of Trump and family, pressuring recalcitrant witnesses to come forward.
Conclusion: McConnell needs to find a way to discredit Trump with the base.
@MarkedMan: I threw this together in the past day using 270toWin’s interactive maps as the template. They haven’t created an interactive map for 2024 yet, but they did an article speculating what the 2016 map would be like after the 2020 census. I used that for the 2024 EV numbers in each state.
The mustard color for the third-party vote I got from their 1968 map.
I discovered at the end that my math was a little off–the total EVs came out to 539. I wasn’t going to go back over it to find out why, so I just fudged it by dropping one EV from the total Dem vote at the top.
As for the map I created out of this–a scenario where the Rs nominate Nikki Haley to run against Kamala Harris and there’s a Trumpist third party–I was mostly spitballing. I was imagining what would happen if you had a third-party taking a chunk out of the normal R electorate. That’s what a lot of people think happened in 1992 with Ross Perot, but that’s a myth. A better analogue is the election of 1912, when former President Roosevelt ran against incumbent President Taft and Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Wilson was winning states Dems had no business winning at the time (such as Maine, which otherwise never voted Dem between 1852 and 1964), with pluralities of less than 40%. So I had to imagine that if there were a Trumpist third party running in 2024, what states would it win? And what states would it enable Dems to unexpectedly win?
As for the Rs nominating Haley, she’s long been marketed as a pre-Trump-era idea of what the future of the GOP looks like, yet she served in the Trump Admin and managed to avoid inviting Trump’s wrath or that of his supporters for the most part. It would also be interesting optics to have the two major-party candidates be women of South Asian descent, with the hardcore Trumpists relegated to this new Patriot Party. The states I gave this new party form the core of the portion of the country I like to call “Deploristan.”
@Kathy: Trump can certainly say whatever he wants. But actually running for president requires major donors, and if he can’t be on the ballot he won’t get those.
He can try and run whatever scam he wants.
@Michael Reynolds: A PAC makes tons more sense than a party.
@gVOR08: Sure, there are influencers. But the point is that a given candidate can go a long way with the right patrons regardless of what the mainstream party wants.
Really, you are reinforcing my point. The institutional party is not the gatekeeper and the influence of various billionaires, PACs, and interest groups underscores the weakness of the parties themselves.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Has he ever done anything else?
Threats and warnings are unwise. Trump would surely publicize them and use them against Mitch. The situation is compelled by Trump’s demand of loyalty to himself above all. Mitch’s post-riot statements were a fully considered decision to cross that Rubicon, so between Mitch and Don the rules of “The Prince” (Thunderdome?) are in effect.
I agree, Rubio is a self correcting problem, Cruz, they maybe stuck with, but they can do all they can to discredit him and the Lincoln Project has announced that they are going to target Cruz. So that can be slyly amped up. Hawley will be primaried in Misery and given he’s lost his financial support he’ll have a tough time.