McConnell Stops Another Coup Attempt as Trump’s Grip Keeps Slipping
While Trump may be hard to beat in 2024, McConnell’s talent is remaining on top of the GOP conference.
When it comes to pulling off coups in 2021, Donald Trump is 0 for 2. The latest, of course, being his failed effort to depose Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
I recently documented how Trump’s political endorsements don’t matter much in the outside game of GOP primary elections. It turns out, neither do his condemnations in the inside game of Senate leadership contests. At least, that’s what this Politico headline suggests: “GOP blows off Trump’s bid to oust McConnell.”
As the story recounts, Trump has tried in vain to topple McConnell—likely as retribution for McConnell’s decision to acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory. McConnell’s blistering comments about the Jan. 6 attack accelerated Trump’s fervor (ironically, after McConnell voted not to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial).
But Trump has recently turned up the heat. “How this guy can stay as Leader is beyond comprehension,” Trump recently wrote. “[T]his is coming not only from me, but from virtually everyone in the Republican Party. He is a disaster and should be replaced as ‘Leader’ ASAP!”
The only problem? No sitting Republican senators agree with Trump, and only two Republican candidates for Senate (Alaska’s Kelly Tshibaka and Missouri’s Eric Greitens) have endorsed this notion.
It would be a mistake to read too much into this. As conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru noted, despite documented signs of weakness within the GOP, “Trump retains great strength in the party and remains its most powerful leader” and, simultaneously “is also stronger than he looks.”
This paradox rings true: Trump is the obvious frontrunner to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, and he clearly lacks the authority to persuade or impose his will in other ways. He is powerful and talented, but also lazy and incompetent. Put otherwise, he is formidable but not unbeatable. Seeing his enemies prosper is a potent reminder of this.
If “the best revenge is living well,” then McConnell is ending his year on a high note. Just this week, Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer had to abandon trying to pass Build Back Better any time soon (Democrats’ plans to pass the social spending bill have been stymied by Sen. Joe Manchin—who just so happens to have met with McConnell on Thursday). Also this week, McConnell took the arrows on raising the debt limit, helping the country avoid default, while preventing any Republicans from being implicated in the vote. It was the sort of servant leadership that engenders loyalty among the ranks—a smart political move for a party poised to take back the majority next year.
While Trump may be hard to stop in 2024, McConnell (who already holds the record for a Republican leader) is on a path to become the longest-serving party leader in Senate history in 2023, when he would break Sen. Mike Mansfield’s 16-year record.
In a political environment where such feats of longevity seem unthinkable, McConnell (who has been unanimously elected leader by his caucus every two years since 2006) is as good at the inside game of politics as Trump is at gaslighting Republican voters.
And while McConnell may not be looking to start a direct fight with Trump, he’s clearly not above trolling him. Take, for instance, his comments this week about the House’s Jan. 6 commission. “I think the fact-finding is interesting. We’re all going to be watching it,” McConnell told Spectrum News. “It was a horrendous event, and I think what they’re seeking to find out is something the public needs to know.” Similarly, he told CNN: “It will be interesting to reveal all the participants who were involved.”
Just as Trump showed no remorse for his failed coup attempt, don’t expect him to lose any sleep over failing to take down McConnell. Normal politicians would be embarrassed by their failures, but Trump is playing a numbers game. You miss all the shots you don’t take. Trump’s targets for defeat within the GOP also include Rep. Liz Cheney and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. He won’t miss them all.
2021 was a bad year for a coup. Will we be so lucky in the New Year?