Trump and McConnell's Republican family feud - opinion

Even in defeat and exile, the disgraced former president continues to insist he is the GOP’s real leader and “Mitch McConnell does not speak for the Republican Party.”

 SUPREME COURT nominee and federal appeals court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson arrives for a meeting with US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Capitol earlier this month. (photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)
SUPREME COURT nominee and federal appeals court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson arrives for a meeting with US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Capitol earlier this month.
(photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said he was undecided on whether to support Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court until after last week’s public hearings. If you believe that I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn or some beachfront property in Mar a Lago.

Forget Mar a Lago. Word is McConnell is unwelcome there. It seems the involuntarily retired former government employee who golfs there hates the senator’s guts. What despicable ingratitude. Without McConnell the old man would be even more disgraced and unable to get back his old job, which he is raising millions for a possible effort to win it back.

Former president Donald Trump should be eternally grateful to McConnell, who twice saved the impeached former president from being removed from office and banned from running again. McConnell rigged both trials in the Senate to protect Trump. He set the rules in his capacity as majority leader (a job he lost with help from Trump in the 2020 election). 

In his first impeachment, Trump was charged with blackmailing the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, by withholding needed anti-tank missiles and other weapons in exchange for political dirt on Joe Biden. McConnell rescued Trump in 2020 by blocking the House of Representatives (the House impeaches or indicts; the Senate holds the trial) from presenting witnesses. In the case of the second impeachment – for inciting an insurrection on January 6, 2021 – McConnell delayed the trial until Trump left office.

McConnell voted both times to acquit Trump. But moments after the second trial, the Senate leader seemed to reverse himself, declaring, “Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty” and that he was “practically and morally responsible” for the insurrection. So why vote to acquit? Was McConnell willing to let Trump get away with his crimes for the good of the party?

 FORMER US PRESIDENT Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando on Saturday. (credit: MARCO BELLO/REUTERS) FORMER US PRESIDENT Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando on Saturday. (credit: MARCO BELLO/REUTERS)

That’s another part of their feud: Whose party is it? McConnell knows presidents come and go but the Senate is here forever, and he was Republican leader before Trump came along and after he left. On Capitol Hill it is no contest between the tough and savvy McConnell and the spineless House minority leader Kevin McCarthy. 

Even in defeat and exile, the disgraced former president continues to insist he is the GOP’s real leader and “Mitch McConnell does not speak for the Republican Party.” Trump has been demanding Senate Republicans dump McConnell, who is himself recruiting non-MAGA candidates to oppose Trump-endorsed aspirants in many races.

Trump, never one to show gratitude much less contrition, is devoting money (not his own, of course) and energy to removing McConnell as Senate GOP leader. Meanwhile, McConnell may be plotting to prevent Trump from running in 2024. Trump calls McConnell an “unsmiling political hack,” “a stone-cold loser” and a “dumb son of a bitch.” His greatest sin, in Trump’s mind, is the leader’s failure even to try to overturn the 2020 election. Their feud goes farther back, including McConnell refusing Trump’s demand to kill the filibuster, the Senate’s failure to repeal Obamacare and the Kentucky senator not being sufficiently sycophantic like Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz.

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens pegged McConnell as “a highly skilled partisan” who is “totally unprincipled.” That character flaw may help explain why McConnell didn’t hesitate to say he’d vote for Trump again if he’s on the 2024 ballot.

McConnell never had an open mind about the nomination of Jackson and if he could find a way to keep her off the Supreme Court he would. Just ask Merrick Garland.

McConnell’s brazen partisanship prevented even a hearing on former President Barak Obama’s nomination of Garland (now Joe Biden’s attorney general) to the Supreme Court. He argued it was too close to the 2016 election, which was nine months away. But, when Trump picked Amy Coney Barrett for the high court mere weeks before the 2020 election, McConnell saw no problem ramming her nomination through in record time.

Trump owes the senior senator a lot more than his two acquittals. More than 220 Trump judges, many with little experience and fewer qualifications, sit on federal benches at all levels, including three on the Supreme Court. It strains credulity to believe he was ever undecided about Jackson, but give him the benefit of doubt.

Maybe he was swayed by the legal scholarship of Republican senators like Marsha Blackburn (Tennessee) who asked the judge to define woman, or Lindsey Graham, who grilled her about her faith, or Ted Cruz’s obsession with whether babies are racist, or Josh Hawley, who tried to portray her as a defender of child pornographers and pedophiles. And there were demands to see her LSAT scores and review presentencing reports on some of her decision. And poor, confused Tom Cotton who apparently thought she was being nominated as attorney general.

All of this “jackassery,” as Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) called his colleagues’ performances, probably pleased McConnell if it made the nominee look unacceptable. But, it didn’t change his mind, that was made up long ago.

The one thing her inquisitors avoided in grilling Jackson was probably the big reason behind their objections. She’s a black woman. The GOP isn’t known as the White People’s Party for its history of racial tolerance and support for civil rights. We’ll see the true colors around April 8 when the full Senate votes on the nomination of this highly qualified history maker.

McConnell’s top priority is power, specifically his own. That has him working desperately to elect a Republican Senate majority this fall so he can be the man on top once again, the Grim Reaper who intends to bury all Biden and Democratic initiatives, and he doesn’t want Trump blowing that opportunity.

The writer is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).