McConnell's plan to deal with Trump: Ignore him

McConnell's plan to deal with Trump: Ignore him

Er … yeah, this should work out well. Ask sixteen other Republicans how it worked out for them in 2015-16, for instance. If we know nothing else, we know Donald Trump has a lot in common with Alex Forrest in Fatal AttractionHe will not be ignored, Mitch.

On the other hand, consider this the War Games strategy. Sometime the only solution is not to play:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had an instant reaction when seeing the lengthy attack he endured from former President Donald Trump. He laughed about it, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The reaction underscores how McConnell plans to navigate the post-Trump era: Focus squarely on winning back the Senate majority — while ignoring the former President at all costs.

Indeed, amid their fallout following the deadly US Capitol riot at the hands of Trump supporters, McConnell has made the calculation that he’s done with the former President and is moving on, according to sources close to the GOP leader. And after Trump issued a blistering attack on McConnell, riddled with false statements and personal broadsides, the GOP leader has no plans to respond, the sources said.

“You probably are not going to hear him utter the name Donald Trump ever again,” said one source familiar with his thinking. “He’s moving on.”

McConnell wants to shift focus away from the party’s internecine war — which he helped fuel — by concentrating on the Biden administration’s policy agenda. By spotlighting the sharply progressive turn taken by President Joe Biden as opposed to Candidate Joe Biden’s promises, McConnell wants to unite the GOP against Democratic “overreach.” As McConnell and John Boehner proved in 2009-10, that could be a winning strategy, especially if Biden ends up pushing some of the items bubbling to the top already: Green New Deal, reparations, and the $15 minimum-wage hike.

In 2009-10, McConnell had an easy road to take in “moving on.” With half of his party more interested in Trump than policy, however, it won’t be nearly as easy for McConnell now. Lindsey Graham thinks that a party war is a bad idea, whether it’s a cold or hot war, and wants to position himself as mediator between the two. That too seems a bit pipe-dreamish:

Graham started last night by trying to remind the two men how much they actually needed each other, at least until they didn’t:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on Fox News’ “Hannity” Tuesday night that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was “indispensable to Donald Trump’s success,” after the former president unleashed a scathing statement attacking the Kentucky senator in highly personal terms. …

“I want you to know this: Mitch McConnell was indispensable to Donald Trump’s success. Mitch McConnell got the tax cut through with a two-vote Republican majority. Mitch McConnell was much to credit for Amy Coney Barrett as any single person. Mitch McConnell working with Donald Trump did a hell of a job. They are now at each other’s throat,” he continued.

“I am more worried about 2022 than I’ve ever been. I don’t want to eat our own. President Trump is the most consequential Republican in the party. If Mitch McConnell doesn’t understand that, he’s missing a lot.”

There is some standard wisdom in those words, but “standard” rarely applies when it comes to Trump. Trump demands fealty, not cooperation; there is no sharing the spotlight except on Trump’s terms. His demands on Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue to play along with his attacks on Georgia’s voting system — even while it undermined voter enthusiasm — or face his denunciations demonstrated that well enough to McConnell, who was probably inclined to that belief anyway.

McConnell’s hoping to get around that by focusing on policy, but to really succeed at that, he’d have to be able to reach the conservo-populists on the right who felt abandoned by both parties until Trump came along. It’s easy (and accurate) to poke fun at the cult of personality that Trump has fostered all along, but it’s just as easy and just as destructive to forget why he succeeded. Working-class Americans in struggling towns had been ignored and overlooked for decades by the political establishment, which includes Mitch McConnell, in favor of trade and economic policies that excluded them from upward mobility. Trump speaks their language, and right now there isn’t really a substitute within the GOP for Trump’s connection to that wing or his ability to command attention. If McConnell’s plan to ignore Trump includes ignoring that bloc of voters, he’s heading for a disaster no matter whether Trump gets marginalized or not.

Until the GOP can produce someone who can replace Trump and reach those voters, the party will not unify. And while McConnell has many fine qualities and is perhaps the most adept Senate caucus leader since LBJ, he is also clearly not that person. His best bet is to find a Republican — preferably outside of the Beltway — who can step into that role and eclipse Trump. Nikki Haley and Ron de Santis might be the two best choices at the moment, but they will have to act fast while Trump’s access to social media is cut off.

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