Why is McConnell for Trump? It’s business Skip to content

Why is McConnell for Trump? It’s business

McConnell’s taking care of his business, but not the country’s business.

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Are you trying to understand why Mitch McConnell would endorse Donald Trump for president, after blaming Trump for provoking the Jan. 6 insurrection and after Trump insulted him and his wife Elaine Chao, the latter with racist slurs?

Why is McConnell for Trump? It’s business.

Go back with me to when McConnell was just starting his climb to the top of Senate Republicans’ leadership ladder. We could still call his home telephone, which answered with this recording: “This is Mitch McConnell. You have reached my home. If this call is about business, please call my office ... ”

“About business.” Not “about my service to you in the United States Senate,” or some other phrase to make a personal connection between the public servant and those being served.

No, for McConnell, politics is business – which helps explain why the lame-duck Senate Republican leader can endorse someone who dubbed him a “broken-down crow,” a “stone-cold loser” and a “dumb son of a bitch,” and called his wife “China loving” and “Coco Chow,” whatever that meant in Trump’s warped mind.

Asked at Tuesday’s brief Senate Republican press gaggle how he could reconcile the endorsement with the fact that he called Trump “practically and morally responsible” for the events of Jan. 6 and that Trump had insulted him and his wife, McConnell merely restated the facts: “On Feb. 25, 2021, shortly after the attack on the Capitol, I was asked a similar question, and I said I would support the nominee for president even if it were the former president.”

But when asked if he was comfortable with Trump as the nominee, he essentially repeated the above statement and added, “I said I would support President Trump if he were the nominee of our party, and he obviously is gonna be the nominee of our party.” He took two more questions, both unrelated, and ended the gaggle.

So, McConnell is holding his nose as he endorses a man he abhors, but why endorse? The closest he came in his prepared statement, before citing their joint accomplishments during Trump’s term, was saying that Trump “has earned the requisite support of Republican voters to be our nominee.”

Believers in democracy may argue that this is the way the country is supposed to work: Elected representatives follow the will of the voters. But McConnell knows that Trump has misled voters with lies and other falsehoods; he said it on Trump’s last full day as president, talking about Jan. 6: “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.”

But McConnell’s Republican colleagues fear those voters’ wrath, so most of them had already endorsed Trump. And in that is surely the biggest reason he has joined them. You can’t be an effective leader of a party in Congress in a presidential-election year if you aren’t in harness with your party’s presidential nominee. A Trump victory would make it all the more likely that Republicans will regain the majority in the Senate, which has always been McConnell’s prime directive as minority leader. He needs to be on the same page with Trump with endorsements, fundraising, and spending in Senate races.

McConnell signaled all that in April 2022 when he told interviewer Jonathan Swan, “As the Republican leader of the Senate . . . I think I have an obligation to support the nominee of my party,” who “will have gone out and earned the nomination [from] Republican voters all over the country.”

In other words, as McConnell might put it, that’s just the way party leaders should conduct their business. But McConnell is a party leader because he is a senator, and senators have much bigger obligations – to the country and the Constitution, which Trump has talked about terminating in one of his lying rants about vote fraud.

Perhaps McConnell has confidence that Congress would be able to hold a re-elected Trump in check, but given the track record of each, that confidence is misplaced.

Consider McConnell’s own words after Trump’s second impeachment trial: “President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful – disgraceful – dereliction of duty.” His unspoken message was that “Some breaches of duty, oath, and morality are so repugnant, they trump party loyalty.” John Dickerson of CBS News said in a commentary, adding that McConnell’s latest message is absolution of Trump, and “Maybe all that fuss about Jan. 6 wasn’t that big a deal. Otherwise, how could a man of character, at the end of his career, justify endorsing someone for a duty that they had previously said that person was disgracefully derelict in performing?”

Because for McConnell, it’s just business.

Perhaps he thinks he needs to retain power and influence to rescue Ukraine from Russia, which some in his orbit see as a bigger threat than Trump. But the Senate has had its say on Ukraine, and now the country will have its say on Trump. McConnell’s say was surely not a statement of conscience, but a reflection of his desire to maintain his Senate standing.

The title of Michael Tackett’s forthcoming biography of McConnell is The Price of Power. One price of being a party leader is that to some extent, you must be a follower – if you want to keep the job. But the job is not as important as the country. McConnell’s taking care of his business, but not the country’s business.

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Al Cross

Al Cross is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and a professor at the University of Kentucky. He served as a political reporter and commentator at the Courier-Journal for 26 years.

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