McConnell to Trump: "Good try"

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

“You come at the king,” Omar Little once advised on the HBO series The Wire, and “you best not miss.” Donald Trump made it a personal project to come at the king of the Senate GOP, and … thus far he’s still all alone in the quest. Not a single sitting Senate Republican has suggested any opposition to Mitch McConnell, and only two Senate candidates have bothered to side with Trump, Politico reports:

Despite months of attacks, the Trump-led campaign to depose the Senate minority leader has resulted in firm pledges from just two Republican candidates and no senators, and it has failed to turn up a formidable challenger to run against McConnell.

Inside the Capitol, conservative senators shrug at the question, revealing a lack of appetite even among the GOP’s anti-establishment wing and continued strong support for McConnell as leader.

Voters “care more about what you do as a senator, what you bring up, what you voted against, how you fight for it,” said Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), who won in 2020 with Trump’s endorsement and believes McConnell is doing “a good job.”

That hasn’t stopped Trump from trying, or from rallying other allies to join the effort to push McConnell out:

“How this guy can stay as Leader is beyond comprehension—this is coming not only from me, but from virtually everyone in the Republican Party,” Trump wrote Thursday. “He is a disaster and should be replaced as ‘Leader’ ASAP!”

The barrage of attacks on McConnell have been amplified by Fox News hosts Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, who have also gone after the GOP leader on air this fall. Carlson, during a segment last week, announced that his show would begin regularly highlighting problems with McConnell, whom he described as “an instrument of the left.”

Even with this full-court press, the effort to unseat McConnell hasn’t produced any movement. At all. Even Trump allies such as Tuberville and Ted Cruz — who’s certainly crossed swords with McConnell often enough — can’t be bothered. Why? Because despite Trump’s ire and fulminations, McConnell has played a tough hand in a 50/50 Senate rather well. He’s managed to kill a couple of radical nominees despite a lack of resort to a filibuster, brought the reconciliation bill to a halt, and got Democrats to own a specific debt-ceiling cap without making any member of his own caucus support it. Also, Cocaine Mitch has peeled Joe Manchin away from Chuck Schumer enough to leave his counterpart with all of the responsibilities of “control” while yanking the real chains himself.

If Trump thinks that other Senate Republicans would see this as failed leadership, it only shows how little Trump understands the Senate, McConnell, or the GOP. And perhaps it’s because the 49 other Senate Republicans remember that they might have had 51 other Senate Republicans had Trump not screwed up their messaging in Georgia’s special elections a year ago.

This brings us to Omar Little and his rather famous saying. The problem with this kind of political stunt is that its failure demonstrates impotence. If Trump really was a party leader, as Lindsey Graham claimed this week in asking McConnell to reconcile with him, he’d have the power to move votes on a leadership question. Instead, he hasn’t moved one, apparently not even Graham’s, even with the combined might of Fox News’ primetime television airtime. That does not bode well at all for Trump’s comeback attempt in 2024, or even a shift to kingmaker.

McConnell has mostly let this failure speak for itself, but did offer a two-word response:

McConnell declined to comment for this story. When asked Thursday about Trump’s push to replace him as leader, the Kentucky Republican declined to engage, only telling reporters “good try.” His advisers say the GOP leader is only focused on winning back the majority — and point out that no one has ever voted against McConnell as leader, a position he has held since 2007.

That in itself might be more gracious than the facts allow. Perhaps Trump might need to think about reconciling with McConnell rather than the other way around.