At the conclusion of the Senate impeachment trial less than two weeks ago, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Donald Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the insurrection at the Capitol. By Thursday, that appeared not to matter: In an interview on Fox News, McConnell said he would “absolutely” support Trump if the ex-president became the 2024 Republican nominee for president.
“What happened in the past is not something relevant now,” McConnell said, just after host Brett Baier played a clip of the senator’s condemnation of Trump on February 13.
Total amnesia will be an effective and convenient strategy for McConnell’s relationship with Trump moving forward, as the interview itself shows. After Baier read a February statement from Trump saying the GOP “can never again be respected or strong with political ‘leaders’ like Mitch McConnell at its helm” and calling the senator a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack,” McConnell chose to look on the bright side, saying that “the Republican Party is actually in very good shape.” When Baier asked if McConnell blamed Trump for Republicans’ losing both Senate seats in Georgia last month — and their majority — McConnell said, “I don’t have any further observations about that.” (Many Republicans have claimed Trump undermined their candidates’ chances by calling the elections “illegal and invalid.”) When Baier asked if McConnell had any advice to give Trump before his speech at CPAC this weekend, he replied, “I don’t have any advice to give the former president about where he should speak or what he should say.”
The interview is a reminder that McConnell’s charge that Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the Capitol riot never carried much practical or moral significance. The speech came just before his vote to acquit the president a second time. And McConnell’s invertebrate stance on Thursday night should not come as a surprise, considering he has long been understood to favor “no ideology except his own political power,” as his biographer John David Dyche once put it.
The reason for McConnell’s retreat is obvious. One poll taken in February showed that a majority of Republican voters preferred Trump as their 2024 candidate and that his favorability rating sat at 81 percent just after the Senate impeachment trial — compared to McConnell’s 33 percent. With this preference clear among GOP voters, it would only be surprising if McConnell chose not to back the candidate who has physically mocked him, called on Republicans to replace him, and arguably cost him his Senate majority. Just as McConnell bailed on a reported plan to sabotage Trump after it became clear the billionaire would dominate the 2016 GOP primary, he has no desire to spar in a party civil war that Trump has already won.