Trump-McConnell feud threatens Republicans’ path to power

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Donald Trump is escalating a political war within his own party that
could undermine the Republican push to fight President Joe Biden’s agenda and ultimately return the
party to power.
A day after blistering Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, as a "dour, sullen and
unsmiling political hack," Trump repeated his baseless claim on Wednesday that he was the rightful
winner of the November election in a series of interviews with conservative outlets after nearly a month
of self-imposed silence.
Trump continued to attack McConnell, accusing the Senate GOP leader of failing to stand up for
Republicans after McConnell blasted Trump for inciting the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot despite voting to
acquit the former president at his second impeachment trial.
"The Republicans are soft. They only hit their own, like Mitch," Trump complained on Newsmax.
"If they spent the same time hitting (Senate Democratic leader Chuck) Schumer and (President Joe)
Biden, the Republicans would be much better off, that I can tell you."
Republican officials in several battlegrounds carried by Biden, including Georgia and Arizona, have said
the vote was fair. Trump’s legal claims surrounding the vote were rejected by judges across the
political spectrum, including many appointed by the former president. McConnell himself described
Trump’s contention as an "unhinged falsehood."
Leading GOP strategists described the exploding feud between the Republican former president and the
Senate’s most powerful Republican as, at best, a distraction and, at worst, a direct threat to the
party’s path to the House and Senate majorities in next year’s midterms.
"I don’t think he cares about winning," Steven Law, a McConnell ally who leads the most
powerful Republican-aligned super PAC in Washington, said of Trump. "He just wants it to be about
himself."
Law noted that Trump lost several states where Republicans face must-win Senate elections in next year’s
quest to break up Democrats’ control of Congress, including in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and
Wisconsin. Republicans are also competing in Nevada and New Hampshire, where Trump was defeated, and in
North Carolina, where Trump barely won.
If Trump tries to make himself "the center of attention," Law said, "that actually could
cost Republicans seats in the general election."
Such infighting is not altogether unusual after a political party loses the White House, but in this
case, the feuding factions have been willing to attack each other publicly. And there was a broad
consensus on Wednesday that the ugly intraparty clash would likely extend well into next year’s
congressional primary season.
The stakes may be higher this time, however, as key players — Trump, among them — have openly threatened
the prospect of creating a new political party, which would endanger the Republican Party’s very
existence.
Roughly 120 anti-Trump Republicans, including current and former officeholders, secretly convened earlier
in the month to contemplate the future of the GOP. A plurality, or 40%, supported the idea of creating a
new party, according to an internal survey provided by one of the meeting’s organizers, former
independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin.
"There’s a lot of energy out there for something new," McMullin said, while encouraging Trump
to follow through with his threats of creating a Patriot Party. "Frankly, I would welcome him to
start a new party and take his most loyal supporters with him. I think that would be a wonderful thing
for the party and the country."
Trump’s plans for the future are still coming together in West Palm Beach, Florida.
He has been banned from Facebook and Twitter for inciting violence, but on Wednesday, he broke his
monthlong silence, giving his first interviews since leaving the White House after the death of
conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh.
On Newsmax, Trump said his team was still exploring its options for returning to social media and
"negotiating with a number of people," while still keeping the option of building his own
platform on the table.
"We’re looking at a lot of different things, but I really wanted to be somewhat quiet," Trump
said, sidestepping repeated questions about whether he intends to run again in 2024.
"Too early to say," he said, while acknowledging that he missed being president.
Still, Trump said that he has had no problem communicating when he wants to by issuing statements — and
has made clear this week that he will not retire quietly.
The former president hurled a series of personal insults at McConnell in a fiery written statement
Tuesday. Mainstream Republicans were perhaps most concerned about his threat to support primary
challengers against Republican candidates who don’t fully embrace his "Make America Great
Again" philosophy.
Some feared that Trump might encourage Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., to run for the Senate, though
there was no evidence of that. The fears hark back to the GOP’s struggle a decade ago when a handful of
tea party candidates with baggage emerged from their Senate primaries and stymied the GOP from retaking
a majority.
In Indiana, Richard Mourdock defeated six-term Sen. Richard Lugar in the 2012 primary, but he imploded
after a debate in which he said pregnancy resulting from rape "is something that God
intended." In Missouri, Republican nominee Todd Akin lost after he insisted on a local talk show
that women’s bodies have ways to avoid pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape."
And in Delaware, tea party favorite Christine O’Donnell beat a longtime GOP congressman before losing by
a landslide in the 2010 general election following reports of personal financial difficulties,
questionable use of campaign funds and allegations that she had "dabbled into witchcraft."
Now that Trump has invigorated a similarly populist movement, Republicans need to recruit candidates who
can navigate a pro-Trump primary and maintain statewide appeal while not alienating establishment-minded
donors. That’s no easy task.
The Senate Republican campaign arm, led by Florida Sen. Rick Scott, will not get involved in open
primaries. But McConnell’s advisers have not ruled out the possibility — even if it draws Trump’s ire.

"You can’t let insanity go unchecked, or it will eat you alive," said Josh Holmes, a top
McConnell political adviser.
"He just wants to win," he said of McConnell. "If he has to act as a heat shield, so be
it."
Meanwhile, Trump broke his monthlong media blackout Wednesday, calling into Fox News, Newsmax and OANN
and repeating what Democrats have labeled his "big lie": his insistence that he won the 2020
election, even though he lost to Biden by millions of votes.
Dozens of judges, local election officials and even his own administration have said there was no
evidence of mass voter fraud, but that hasn’t stopped Trump from saying there was, even after the riot
at the Capitol building that left five dead.
"Well, Rush thought we won. And so do I, by the way. I think we won substantially," Trump told
Fox.
He did not call out McConnell by name, but he acknowledged critics within his own party: "We don’t
have the same support at certain levels of the Republican system."
Meanwhile, Law sought to downplay Trump’s grip on the Republican Party. He noted that Trump’s approval
rating among Republican voters, at close to 80%, stands at a similar mark to that of former President
George W. Bush following the Iraq War and the 2007 financial meltdown.
The focus on the next election cannot be Trump, he said.
"We will do everything we can to make the focus Joe Biden and the Pelosi-Schumer Congress. We can
win with that," Law said. "The challenge is if there’s a way in which Trump finds a way to
make himself the focus next fall."
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Peoples reported from New York.