Donald Trump once called Mitch McConnell “mean as a snake.”
That was how Trump supporters felt about the Senate Minority Leader after he railed against the former president in a duplicitous stemwinder of a speech, which confusingly led to his impeachment acquittal vote.
It smacked of a major betrayal for McConnell to smear the former president at a time when he needed to be rightly defended.
McConnell argued that Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day,” although the Capitol attack was pre-planned and carried out by various fringe extremist groups.
The Kentucky senator even argued that Trump was “liable” for the Capitol riots, despite Trump’s sovereign immunity from civil suit and a boilerplate speech that no rational human being who actually read would consider to be ‘incitement.’
On Thursday, McConnell shed his snakeskin one more time and reversed course on his political support for Donald Trump.
McConnell, who appeared to be in a cold sweat, fielded questions from Fox News’ Bret Baier.
When asked if he would support Donald Trump if he were the Republican Party nominee in 2024, he didn’t hesitate to answer.
“The nominee of the party? Absolutely,” Mitch replied.
It was a striking turnaround given the rhetorical beatdown Donald Trump had just provided him in the form of a scorched-earth letter blasting McConnell after his impeachment trial speech.
“The Republican Party can never again be respected or strong with political ‘leaders’ like Sen. Mitch McConnell at its helm,” Trump’s statement bellowed.
“McConnell’s dedication to business as usual, status quo policies, together with his lack of political insight, wisdom, skill, and personality, has rapidly driven him from Majority Leader to Minority Leader, and it will only get worse,” Trump railed. “The Democrats and Chuck Schumer play McConnell like a fiddle — they never had it so good — and they want to keep it that way!”
But then comes the kicker. Trump, indeed, got personal.
“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 threatened. “He will never do what needs to be done, or what is right for our Country. Where necessary and appropriate, I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First. We want brilliant, strong, thoughtful and compassionate leadership,” he continued.
McConnell, being as cold-blooded as it comes, appears to have set aside the personal slights and has made a political calculation. It is not just about the future of the Republican Party, about his tanking personal approval ratings as well.
Since the Senate impeachment trial was scheduled and McConnell failed to make a strong case defending Donald Trump, his approval ratings have plummeted, and his disapproval ratings are rising.
In the most recent available Politico/Morning Consult poll, McConnell’s approval rating is at a miserable 18% and his disapproval rating is at an astronomical 64%. (Compare that with the insufferable Nancy Pelosi, whose favorability is at 37% and her unfavorability is at 53%.)
“That represents a dramatic fall since the end of November,” an earlier American Independent article noted, “when Politico/Morning Consult found McConnell with a 30% favorability rating and 45% saying they had an unfavorable view.”
That means Mitch McConnell has witnessed a 12-point decline in favorability and a 19-point surge in unfavorability since November.
Meanwhile, the Trump impeachment show trial has not dampened supporter enthusiasm for the former president. If anything, it has galvanized commitment among the base.
“Republican voters got over any misgivings they had about Trump’s role on Jan. 6 very quickly,” a Politico piece last week noted. “Fifty-nine percent of Republican voters said they want Trump to play a major role in their party going forward. That’s up 18 percentage points from a Morning Consult poll conducted on Jan. 7, and an increase of 9 points from a follow-up poll on Jan. 25, before the impeachment trial began.”
Donald Trump is much more well-liked among the Republican Party faithful than Mitch McConnell.
“While Trump’s overall favorability rating is an abysmal 34% in our latest poll, 81% of Republican respondents gave him positive marks,” Politico continued. “Trump was at 77% approval among Republicans on Jan. 7 and 74% on Jan. 25.”
Furthermore, Trump supporters are all-in if the former president decides to run again in 2024.
“Fifty-four percent said they would vote for the former president to run again in 2024, should he opt for a second term in the White House,” Newsweek noted.
The connection between Donald Trump and millions of Republican Party members is not even merely contingent on him being the party nominee. Trump could hypothetically split the party support in half if he decided to run independent or even form his own political party.
“If Trump formed a third party, 46% would support the Trump Party,” Fox 5 reported on a Suffolk/USA Today poll. “Only 27% of the Trump supporters say they would back the Republican Party.”
“Of those surveyed, 54% said they feel more loyalty to Donald Trump than to the Republican party,” the report noted. “A much smaller 34% said they feel more loyalty to the GOP.”
McConnell’s turnabout on Trump support thus represents a business decision.
Baier followed up with McConnell in his Thursday interview about ‘what changed.’
“What happened in the past is not something relevant now,” McConnell explained. “We’re moving forward. We’ve got a new administration. It’s a very left-wing administration.”
McConnell seemed optimistic that ‘anybody but Trump’ could eventually win.
“There’s a lot to happen between now and ’24,” he rationalized. “I’ve got at least four members that I think are planning on running for president …. Should be a wide-open race.”
The above-mentioned Politico/Morning Consult poll should disabuse people of the notion that many other candidates stand a chance if Trump runs for a second term:
Fifty-three percent of Republicans said they would vote for Trump if the primary were held today.
All the other Republican hopefuls are polling in the low single digits, besides Mike Pence, who received 12 percent. Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, Mitt Romney, Kristi Noem, Larry Hogan, Josh Hawley, Ted Cruz, Tim Scott and Rick Scott all polled below 5%. Only Donald Trump Jr. and Nikki Haley punched through at 6%.
In politics, reversals of fortune are commonplace.
In the opening reference to Donald Trump once calling Mitch McConnell “mean as a snake,” that nugget comes by way of a former aide Cliff Sims, who relates that he actually meant it as a compliment.
When Trump was pushing to repeal as much as he could of Obamacare, the subject of a vote by Joe Manchin came up. McConnell noted that Manchin was unreliable when the cards are down. Donald Trump wanted to try to flip him because of the “wonderful” relationship they had.
“Mr. President,” McConnell is said to have commented, “he’ll never be with us when it counts. I’ve seen this time and time again. We’re going to do everything in our power to beat him when he comes up for reelection in 2018.”
“We’re going to crush him like a grape,” he added.
As Cliff Sims recounts, the ensuing atmosphere was said to be something like out of a Scorcese mob movie:
There was a brief silence—maybe a half second—when the atmosphere in the room felt like the scene in Goodfellas when no one can tell how Joe Pesci is going to react to Ray Liotta calling him “funny.” Would he freak out? Would he laugh it off? Finally Trump broke the tension.
“This guy’s mean as a snake!” he said, pointing at McConnell and looking around the room. The entire group burst out laughing.
“I like it, though, Mitch,” he continued, giving McConnell two quick pats on the back. “If that’s what you think we need to do.”
McConnell is coming around on backing Donald Trump.
It’s a business decision that McConnell and the Republican Party felt they needed to make if they hope to survive.
OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion.