In yet another sign of the intensifying battle for the control of the Republican Party, former President Donald Trump on Tuesday lashed out Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican, calling him a “dour, sullen and unsmiling political hack”.
Trump also said he will back supporters take on Republican lawmakers seeking re-election in the primaries, the inner-party nominating contests. This was a clear signal to anti-Trump elements to fall in line or face his base’s ire, a career-threatening prospect for many Republicans.
“Mitch is a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack, and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again,” Trump said in a statement, adding, “Where necessary and appropriate, I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First.”
Trump’s outburst came after days of escalating attacks from McConnell who started by slamming Trump in a speech from the floor of the Senate after voting to acquit him in his second impeachment trial last week. McConnell said Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the January 6 insurrection, and that the former president could still face legal jeopardy. “He didn’t get away with anything yet,” said McConnell.
McConnell, who is the minority leader in the senate, carried on in this vein in a widely seen, cited and discussed Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal, indicating he was not backing down.
The Republican Party is struggling to deal with Trump, a former president who will not go away as they normally do. Ten of them voted to impeach him in the House and 7 held him guilty in the senate trial. Nikki Haley, who is expected to run in 2024, is among leading Republicans who have broken with Trump, saying he “let us down”.
Many others have either recanted their initial criticism of the former president — Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican, and Senator Lindsey Graham, for instance — or held their tongue, fearing his continued popularity with the party’s base.
Nearly 6 out of 10 registered Republicans said Trump should play a dominant role in the party, in a Morning Consult/Politico poll released on Tuesday. And only a slightly lower number of the — 54% — said they will back him in the 2024 primary, a whopping 42 points ahead of former vice-president Mike Pence.