McConnell privately expressed concern that Trump-backed candidates would be too polarized to succeed in the general election.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell ignored concerns about former President Donald Trump’s potentially undue influence in the upcoming midterm elections.
The longtime Kentucky MP has vowed to keep “dummies” out of GOP politics as the standoff between establishment Republicans and Trump supporters GOP poised for a showdown in less than nine months.
He is also actively working to recruit and support popular mid-level Republicans to strengthen his faction, albeit with mixed results.
Trump, on the other hand, has dealt with dozens of endorsements from local to federal races. And while he hasn’t won as many polarized MAGA candidates as insiders reportedly feared, the road to the midterm elections is sure to be a contest for whose influence the Republican Party controls.
While he regularly refrains from addressing Trump by name, McConnell doesn’t shy away from challenging him on rare public occasions that leave no doubt as to who he hits.
He recently chided the Republican National Committee for denouncing Trump critics Rep. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, a move the former president praised, and said, “I don’t think you can kick anyone you don’t agree with out of the party.”
However, McConnell is wary of extending the GOP tent to Republican candidates who have risen amid conservative backlash against Barack Obama’s presidency.
According to the New York Times, he is concerned about the Republicans that Trump now supports.
“We changed the business model in 2014, and since then, none of these fools have been nominated,” the Kentucky senator said.
In the meantime, Trump has tackled a slew of local to federal endorsements, with most of his candidates believing the 2020 election was rigged.
Instead, McConnell is reportedly working non-stop behind the scenes to recruit new Senate candidates, especially from the popular Republican governors of Arizona, Maryland and New Hampshire.
He is also aided by senior Trump critics in his party, such as Senator Susan Collins of Maine and even former President George W. Bush.
“No one should be afraid of President Trump, period,” Collins told the Times.
The latter two – Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu – have already turned down their requests.
Hogan appeared on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, where he made clear that McConnell failed to convince him and criticized the “dysfunction” rampant among Washington lawmakers.
“I have a lot more power as Governor of Maryland. Every day I make decisions that affect people’s lives, and I love getting things done. And in Washington, it just seems like there’s just a lot of discord and dysfunction, and not much is being done. So it wasn’t a job that didn’t suit me,” Hogan explained.
The popular governor’s failure seems to have been McConnell’s biggest setback so far, after he enlisted Collins, Senator Mitt Romney and even his wife Elaine Chao to try and convince him. However, Hogan has not ruled out entering his hat in the ring in the 2024 presidential election.
Arizona’s Doug Ducey is reportedly due to make a decision soon, but is likely to back down as well, despite being personally lobbied by Bush, who reportedly asked Ducey in December to consider calling Democratic Senator Mark Kelly.
“This is something for which you should have a certain sense of humility. Listen to me respectfully, which I did,” he said.
Ducey predicted to the Times that this year’s “primaries will determine the party’s future.”
However, even if he doesn’t run in the end, Ducey helps McConnell play a defensive game to keep the establishment Republicans in power.
The Republican Governors Association, which he chairs, has donated publicity money to defend Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. This is the first time the organization has had to advertise for an incumbent facing a major problem.
After Trump got mad at Kemp for refusing to reverse Georgia’s 2020 election results, he backed former Senator David Perdue as a major challenge.
McConnell tried to get popular GOP governors such as Maryland’s Larry Hogan (left) and Arizona’s Doug Ducey (right) to run for the Senate. Hogan refused, however, and Ducey has yet to make a final decision. Both were also inspired by former President George Boog.
Previously, McConnell had failed to persuade Purdue to run again for the Senate, instead, in the end, he seemed to relent and back Trump’s longtime friend Herschel Walker for the seat.
In other Senate races, Trump appears to be trying to create a separate faction against McConnell.
Late last year, reports surfaced that he tried to get GOP Senate lawmakers to challenge McConnell’s iron grip on leadership, but found no support among current officials.
At the same time, Trump took to Fox to call on the Republican Party for new leadership, saying in a recent statement that McConnell “does not speak for the Republican Party or represent the views of the vast majority of its constituents.”
He also repeatedly criticized McConnell for not blocking further moves by President Joe Biden, namely a debt ceiling hike and a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure compromise that McConnell supported.
The senator even adopted Trump’s nickname for him, “Old Raven,” out of hand, joking during an interview with the Washington Examiner that it was his “favorite bourbon.”
In Alaska, incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski’s primary race is one of the most visible signs of McConnell’s and Trump’s influence battle.
Lisa Murkowski, targeted by Trump after impeachment vote over Capitol riots, challenged by former state commissioner for administration Kelly Chibaka (R)
Murkowski told the Times she feels McConnell’s support despite being challenged by Trump-backed challenger Kelly Chibaka. Chibaka, like Trump, has been vocal about the need for a new leader in the Republican Senate.
“He made it clear that you were there for Alaska, you were there for the team, and I’m going to be there for you,” Murkowski said of McConnell.
She also has a significantly heavier war chest of $4 million compared to Chibaki’s $630,000.
The only other Trump-backed candidate supporting McConnell’s ouster is Eric Greitens, the former governor of Missouri running for an open seat in the State Senate.
McConnell, gloating over Trump’s difficulty in seriously challenging his leadership, told the Times, “Only two of them have taken me on.”
McConnell also vehemently defended his deputy, Senate Minority Representative John Thune. McConnell promised that Thune would “crush anyone who ran against him” in South Dakota.
Thune drew the ire of Trump and his allies for dismissing their claims of rigged 2020 elections. Trump tried to punish Thune by holding a primary for South Dakota Gov. Christy Noem, but she turned down the ex-president’s offer.
Cracks in McConnell’s dominance of the Republican Party, however, are beginning to show within his own caucus.
Cracks in McConnell’s leadership are starting to show: Senator Lindsey Graham told ABC he won’t support McConnell as Senate GOP leader unless he has a “working relationship” with Trump.
Speaking to ABC News Sunday, Senator Lindsey Graham said that “any Republican leader in the House or Senate should have a working relationship with President Trump because most Republicans like President Trump’s policies.”
He previously suggested that he might not support McConnell if he fails to reconcile with Trump.
“Many of us would like him to look forward, not backward. But he is very popular because he opposes all the things that most Republicans think should be fought against, ”Graham said of the ex-president’s popularity.
“And so Mitch McConnell, if he runs, or anyone else, I think will have to demonstrate a working relationship with the president.”