Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are the best of frenemies. The dark side of the stormy relationship between the 45th president and the longtime Senate Republican leader came into view again in the past week after McConnell complained that “candidate quality” would hamper the GOP’s effort to retake the Senate in November. McConnell didn’t name names, but this was universally understood as a reference to Trump-backed Senate candidates, whom my colleague Jonathan Chait described as “fascists, dilettantes, and the mentally ill.”
After stewing for a few days, Trump blasted the Old Crow (as he habitually calls McConnell) on Truth Social on Saturday. He even veered off into an attack on McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, who served as secretary of Transportation during the Trump administration:
Why do Republicans Senators allow a broken down hack politician, Mitch McConnell, to openly disparage hard working Republican candidates for the United States Senate. This is such an affront to honor and to leadership. He should spend more time (and money!) helping them get elected, and less time helping his crazy wife and family get rich on China!
In a fresh Truth Social post Wednesday, Trump elaborated on that last remark by linking to a long article from the Federalist reviving a borderline-racist right-wing line of attack on Chao and McConnell for her shipping-magnate father’s ties to China. In another post, he inscrutably referred to Chao as “Coco” and changed the subject to McConnell allowing the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (which, of course, he had no way of blocking):
The Democrats have Mitch McConnell and his lovely wife, Elaine “Coco” Chao, over a barrel. He and she will never be prosecuted, as per the last paragraphs of this story, as long as he continues to give the Radical Left the Trillions and Trillions of Dollars that they constantly DEMAND. He was afraid to use the “Debt Ceiling Card” in order to stop the most expensive waste of money in our Country’s history, to be spent on the Green New Deal, which will only cause one thing, a Depression.
The backstory of Trump’s loathing of both husband and wife is well known. Chao resigned from Trump’s cabinet on January 7, 2021, citing the “traumatic and entirely avoidable” violence during the Capitol riot. McConnell blasted Trump for “a disgraceful dereliction of duty” on January 6 while making it clear his opposition to an impeachment conviction was purely a technical matter based on the fact that the ex-president was no longer in office.
But Trump owes McConnell a lot. Misgivings aside, McConnell did lead the Senate in acquitting Trump twice when his misconduct led him to impeachment charges. Just as important, the “broken-down hack politician” guided Senate confirmation of Trump’s three Supreme Court nominees and countless lower-court nominees, which, despite the 45th president’s shocking contempt for the rule of law, will represent his primary legacy (unless he returns to the White House and really goes wild). McConnell is also principally responsible for Trump’s one real legislative accomplishment, the 2017 tax-cut bill that enriched many of the donors who are now trying to help the Kentuckian retake the Senate. That some of McConnell’s beneficiaries have followed Trump in attacking the leader themselves could lead to some uncomfortable postelection moments.
And that’s what makes Trump’s latest explosion of bile toward McConnell especially ill timed. There’s no question that several Trump-endorsed Senate candidates are floundering. If they survive, it will be because of McConnell-directed financial rescue missions like the ones he has apparently undertaken on behalf of J.D. Vance and Herschel Walker. Trump needs the Old Crow, and indeed, these two old reactionaries perpetually need each other. That will be true no matter how often McConnell expresses his contempt for Trump and the violent rabble he inspires or how often Trump insults McConnell and his “crazy wife,” Coco.
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