Report: McConnell called Trump "a fading brand" in Republican politics

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

When did he say this, exactly? Was it during the four minutes after the insurrection when it looked like some meaningful number of Republicans might finally give up on Trump?

Because if not, I can’t imagine what McConnell is thinking.

Even if it’s not something that he actually believes, rather just a jab at Trump to belittle him, it seems counterproductive to next year’s Senate outlook to have the leader of the party and the leader of the Senate Republican caucus calling each other losers and has-beens.

Here’s the latest scoop from Bob Woodward’s and Robert Costa’s book, “Peril”:

The book quotes McConnell calling former President Donald Trump, “a fading brand. Retired. OTTB as they say in Kentucky — off-the-track Thoroughbred.”

“There is a clear trend moving,” McConnell said, toward a place where the GOP is not dominated by Trump. McConnell added, “Sucking up to Donald Trump is not a strategy that works.”…

Ever the cold-blooded strategist, McConnell, according to Woodward and Costa, appears to believe he can beat Trump’s “ragtag network,” if one were to ever even come together.

“The only place I can see Trump and me actually at loggerheads would be if he gets behind some clown who clearly can’t win,” McConnell is quoted saying in the book. “To have a chance of getting the Senate back, you have to have the most electable candidates possible.”

There’s a “clear trend” away from Trump? Anti-Trumpers like Geoff Duncan in Georgia and Anthony Gonzalez in Ohio are leaving elected office rather than face probably unwinnable primaries against Trump-backed challengers. Also in Ohio, candidates like Josh Mandel and J.D. Vance are vying to see who can perform the most brain-dead imitation of Trumpism in the interest of defeating the other. Liz Cheney is likely to be obliterated in her Wyoming race next summer for having antagonized Trump despite every big-name pre-MAGA Republican in the country lining up behind her, including George W. Bush. A national primary poll taken a week ago found Trump with 58 percent of the vote compared to Mike Pence’s 13. Ron DeSantis, the new darling of the conservative commentariat, finished almost 50 points behind Trump with nine percent.

Doesn’t seem like he’s “fading” to me.

Here’s another way to approach this. If Trump is fading, why is a centrist Republican like Dean Heller who’s running for governor in a bluish state so oblique in answering questions about the 2020 election?

Former Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) refused to say President Biden won the 2020 election during a kickoff event for his upcoming run for governor on Monday and again in an interview on Tuesday.

“I still know who the president is, but I do believe we have a problem with elections,” the former senator said in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

However, the newspaper added that he would not name the president, “no matter how the question is asked.”

It’s strange that even moderate Republicans would be nervous about contradicting a “fading” political presence.

The best I can do to tease some sort of strategic angle out of McConnell baiting Trump this way is that he thinks endless antagonism between Trump and the establishment might lead Republicans to grow exasperated with him in time. Watching 45 brawl with half the party makes the thought of Trump 2024 that much more exhausting to righties who aren’t full MAGA. Just within the past 24 hours, he’s been unable to resist attacking cronies Lindsey Graham and Mike Lee for not supporting his election lies…

…and of course Bush and his “flunky” Karl Rove for backing Cheney:

As I’m writing this post, he’s put out a new statement calling on Greg Abbott to order an audit of the 2020 election results in Texas, a state Trump, uh, won by more than five points. (That’s part of a trend among MAGA loyalists, who are seeking to review ballots even in counties where Trump romped.) He’s also reportedly working behind the scenes to try to find a challenger to McConnell for Senate majority leader despite Lindsey Graham’s best efforts to heal the rift between them.

The impression one has of him nowadays is of a guy in a bar who’s drunk and eager to fight with all comers, throwing roundhouses in every direction. Maybe McConnell baiting him is designed to keep having him make a spectacle of himself, counting on Republicans to finally turn away in pity and disgust. I … do not share his optimism. And it’s hard for me to understand how he thinks antagonizing Trump will benefit the party in the near term since it’ll make Trump more eager to oppose some of McConnell’s handpicked Senate candidates. Even if McConnell wins those showdowns in the primaries, Trump’s antipathy to Mitch’s recruits could sink them in the general election. Usually it’s clear what McConnell’s angle is when he makes a move politically. Not this time.