Trump Smears Don’t Diminish McConnell

February 18, 2021

Donald Trump presumably liked it when Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell voted to acquit him because the senator believes impeachment of a former president is unconstitutional. But Mr. Trump had a very different reaction to Mr. McConnell’s floor speech Saturday, when he rightly said the former president was “practically and morally responsible for provoking” the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol and for failing to denounce the violence while it was under way.

On Tuesday afternoon Mr. Trump attacked Mr. McConnell at length, insulting him as a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack” who lacked “political insight, wisdom, skill, and personality” and “doesn’t have what it takes, never did, and never will.” That was reportedly the toned-down version.

Mr. Trump’s aides may high-five each other over their rhetorical excesses, but they’ll never convince Mr. McConnell’s Democratic adversaries or Republican senatorial admirers that Mr. Trump’s slurs are accurate. (Though some might concede Mr. McConnell is something less than a sparkling conversationalist at dinner parties.)

Since the Senate’s first meeting in March 1789, only a handful of leaders have demonstrated a mastery of the upper chamber that matches the bespectacled Kentuckian’s. His achievements are legion, including skillfully maneuvering Mr. Trump’s legislative accomplishments and judicial appointments through the Senate.

The former president also said Mr. McConnell lacked “credibility on China because of his family’s Chinese business holdings.” This smear was aimed at Mr. McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, whose Taiwanese-American family runs a shipping company active in the Pacific. Neither Ms. Chao nor Mr. McConnell owns stock in the New York-based business and, it’s worth noting, Mr. Trump wasn’t concerned about all this when he made Ms. Chao his transportation secretary.

In his statement, Mr. Trump even blamed Mr. McConnell for losing two Georgia Senate seats in Jan. 5 runoffs because the senator had endorsed $600 stimulus checks rather than matching the Democrats’ offer of $2,000. Nice try, but Mr. Trump’s own Treasury secretary floated the $600 stimulus check idea on Dec. 8. Instead of stopping him, Mr. Trump waited until after Republicans had lined up behind his administration’s proposal to announce, on Dec. 22, that he supported $2,000 checks. The Georgia Republican senators looked like contortionists as they fell in behind the president’s last-minute change of mind.

Mr. Trump lost those Georgia seats by making his campaign appearances there not about the need for checks and balances on the incoming Biden administration, but instead about his rage over losing the presidential election. As a FiveThirtyEight analysis found, “The better Trump did in a county in November, the more its turnout tended to drop in the runoffs.” Enough of the former president’s most fervent supporters believed him that Georgia elections were rigged and determined it wasn’t worth voting. The result? Democrats won both races and control of the Senate.

In suggesting that Senate Republicans oust Mr. McConnell, Mr. Trump is setting himself up for defeat. Mr. McConnell won’t be removed and replaced with a Trump toady. The former president’s screed will leave him appearing weaker while the Kentucky senator shows that Friedrich Nietzsche (and Kelly Clarkson ) was right: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Mr. Trump may not be fully aware of shifting currents among congressional Republicans. More members now admit privately that Mr. Trump had no coattails in last fall’s election. Especially in the suburbs, some Republicans and many GOP-leaning independents refused to take his lawn signs or support him. That’s why so many Republican congressional candidates ran ahead of the former president.


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