Trump's next target: Mitch McConnell?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

I read this and thought back to what that DCCC spokesman tweeted last week after Anthony Gonzalez announced his retirement and the former president took a victory lap: “Glad to see Team Trump continue to put its effort and focus into beating Republicans.”

Is there any Democrat who spends as much time thinking about how to knock off GOP incumbents as Trump does?

Hypothetical: If the House Republicans who voted for impeachment all go on to win their primaries next summer (apart from Gonzalez, who’s quitting), would Trump prefer to see them win their general elections or lose to Democrats?

Does his answer to that question depend on whether control of the House would turn on the outcome? Or would he prefer to see his GOP enemies lose even if it meant Republicans would be stuck in the minority for another two years? We all know the answer, don’t we.

Anyway. Getting Mitch McConnell ousted as Senate majority leader may be the only Republicans-only election outcome in America that’s beyond Trump’s grasp:

Mr. Trump has spoken recently with senators and allies about trying to depose Mr. McConnell and whether any Republicans are interested in mounting a challenge, according to people familiar with the conversations. There is little appetite among Senate Republicans for such a plan, lawmakers and aides said, but the discussions risk driving a wedge deeper between the most influential figure in the Republican Party and its highest-ranking member in elected office…

In a recent interview, Mr. Trump declined to discuss whether he was recruiting challengers for Mr. McConnell. The former president did say he wanted Senate Republicans to oust the Kentuckian from the leadership position he has held for almost 15 years.

“They ought to,” Mr. Trump said. “I think he’s very bad for the Republican Party.”

Here’s your homework assignment. Scroll through the list of current senators and try to find a Republican who seems like he might be as effective as McConnell as leader and who stands a realistic chance of convincing more than half the caucus to support him over Cocaine Mitch.

Let me know if you find anyone. The experienced guys, like John Barrasso and John Cornyn, are all McConnell cronies and won’t challenge him. The populist firebrands who might be willing to do Trump’s bidding, like Josh Hawley, skew younger and have too many enemies within the caucus to mount a credible campaign. The number two Republican in the Senate and thus the most likely successor, John Thune, is as despised by Trump as McConnell is and has been hinting about retirement lately rather than face some MAGA primary challenger next year.

There are three problems confronting anyone who’d take on McConnell:

1. If you try to depose him and fail, he might hold a grudge. Do you and your supporters within the caucus want to spend the next five or six years getting garbage committee assignments and being cut out of legislation? If you strike at the king, you best not miss.

2. Who would want McConnell’s job? Let’s say you challenge him and Trump throws enough weight around on your behalf that you manage to get 26 votes inside the caucus and become leader. Congratulations: Trump now owns you. You’re in the same position as Kevin McCarthy, forever trying to thread the needle between what’s best for the party and what Trump wants at any given moment. Fall out of his favor and he could just as easily recruit some toady to replace you as leader the same way he recruited you to replace Mitch.

3. McConnell’s seat isn’t up again until 2026. It’d be one thing if he were on the ballot next fall and Trump was all-in on lining up a challenger for him in Kentucky. That would be a hell of a primary. And maybe some ambitious Republican senator would calculate that McConnell is likely to lose, in which case trying to oust him now would leave him little time to punish you even if you fail. But McConnell will be there another five years. There’s no near-term prospect of him leaving the Senate.

More broadly, why would Senate Republicans want to give up the partial insulation from Trump’s influence that having McConnell as leader provides them? Because he and Trump are now sworn enemies, McConnell is free to set the GOP agenda the way he likes. He can take his own members’ best political interests into account when doing so. Trump doesn’t care about those interests; he cares about loyalty and litmus tests and would happily force the caucus into symbolic votes even if it meant damaging their midterm prospects. For instance, given Trump’s ferocious criticism of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, is there any chance that a caucus led by a McCarthy type who’s beholden to him would have provided 19 votes in favor of the bill, as McConnell did?

McConnell gives his caucus a modicum of independence from MAGA, a rare and precious thing in 2021.

The best evidence that Trump’s quest to depose him is hopeless is the fact that the WSJ asked multiple Trumpist politicians what they thought of the idea and couldn’t find anyone willing to endorse it. Tommy Tuberville? “Naw, I’m not going to get in that fight,” he told the paper. John Kennedy? “I just don’t realistically see that happening.” Herschel Walker? No comment. Kelly Tshibaka, Sean Parnell, and Mo Brooks, all of whom might be members of the caucus in 2023? No comments from all. Even Josh Mandel, who’s running in Ohio as the most slavishly mindless Trump acolyte in the country, couldn’t bring himself to go along when asked about ousting McConnell. “I don’t understand your question—is there someone running against him?” he replied.

All of these people can do something that Trump evidently can’t. They can count. They know McConnell’s not going to lose a caucus vote, so why make an enemy of him needlessly before entering the Senate?

I’ll leave you with this interesting scoop from CNN from 10 days ago about McCarthy quietly — very quietly — trying to bolster some anti-Trump Republicans in the House in the belief that they’re his best bet at holding their seats and winning a House majority. A choice quote about McCarthy from Trump, according to Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s new book: “This guy called me every single day, pretended to be my best friend, and then, he f***ed me,” a reference to McCarthy blaming Trump for the insurrection in his floor speech on the day of impeachment. “He’s not a good guy.” Uh oh.