How the feud between Trump and McConnell threatens the GOP's future

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'If Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again,' Donald Trump said.

Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are locked in a feud that may have long-term consequences for the future of the Republican Party, according to experts.

The pair has been estranged for months, with McConnell reportedly faulting Trump for both the loss of the GOP's Senate majority after Georgia's Jan. 5 runoff election, due to false claims of voter fraud, and the deadly attack on the Capitol Jan. 6 that left five dead.

Some have suggested that Trump and McConnell represent feuding factions of the GOP — Trump loyalists and those seeking to move on without him. While congressmen like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) have visited Trump at Mar-a-Lago since his departure, outlets report that others — like McConnell — want nothing to do with him.

On Feb. 13, McConnell voted to acquit Trump of the charge of inciting the Capitol insurrection. But he took to the Senate floor to slam Trump, saying, "There's no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day."

The Senate minority leader followed up with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 15 defending his acquittal vote — but scorching Trump.

"There is no question former President Trump bears moral responsibility," wrote McConnell. "His supporters stormed the Capitol because of the unhinged falsehoods he shouted into the world's largest megaphone. His behavior during and after the chaos was also unconscionable, from attacking Vice President Mike Pence during the riot to praising the criminals after it ended."

Trump blasted McConnell in a public statement, calling him a "dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack" and vowed to oust him in the primaries. He's reportedly told allies he will stop at nothing to punish McConnell.

"If Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again," Trump wrote in the statement, adding that, "where necessary and appropriate, I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First."

According to Trump senior adviser Jason Miller, McConnell should expect to be "hit back" by Trump for his remarks.

"Our goal is to win back the House and Senate. We'll be looking at open seats, Democratic-held seats, and maybe there are places where we look for upgrades and more MAGA-friendly voices. I have no idea why McConnell decided to lash out at the president this way, but when you do, you can expect to get hit back," Miller said.

Republican consultants say the feud will almost certainly cause problems for the GOP in the 2022 midterm elections, as Trump throws the full weight of his $60 million super PAC into ousting anti-Trump GOP candidates. And, according to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the rift is concretely affecting 2022 midterms by resulting in division among Republican donors, stalling GOP fundraising.

But Josh Holmes, a former McConnell adviser, argues that Trump shouldn't underestimate McConnell's — or the GOP's — ability to go on without his support.

"[Trump's] not going to teach anything to Mitch McConnell about winning," Holmes said. "You'll recall the Senate had majorities — big majorities — when President Trump arrived. They had a House majority as well. When he left, they had neither."

A Thursday release from the DSCC notes that Republican infighting means an increasingly fragile and fractured GOP could be facing a split, as it's faced with trying to retain an extremist pro-Trump base while still remaining attractive to the "broader electorate."

But Berkeley Law lecturer and conservative writer Steven Hayward said that he sees a GOP split as unlikely, and that far-right Trump supporters like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA) will likely be ousted by more moderate challengers in the primaries.

Still, he noted, "the midterm elections in 2022 may be tricky. But I think by 2024, an awful lot of the stuff happening right now is going to be in the rearview mirror ... unless Trump is the candidate again, which is still a question."

DSCC spokesperson Stewart Boss said that McConnell "created this political problem for himself by enabling Donald Trump's takeover of the Republican Party for years. These two toxic Republicans are embroiled in an all-out battle that is poised to endanger weak incumbents, jeopardize vulnerable open seats, and lead to messy and expensive primary fiascos across the country."

Still, some experts see the purge of Trump's base as necessary for the future of the Republican Party — and of the republic.

Susan Hyde, a political science expert from the University of California, Berkeley, said recently that the Republican Party has finally "begun to confront the Trump-led authoritarian wing of the Republican Party."

"The importance of this confrontation for the future of U.S. democracy cannot be overstated," she said. "If the Republican Party remains anti-democracy, then the path to restoring functional if imperfect U.S. democracy becomes nearly impassable."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.