The ongoing civil war within the GOP broke wide open on Monday, and it was nothing short of delicious to behold. The two biggest heavyweights that party has produced — former President Donald Trump and current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — went after each other like those paper-mache monsters in the creature double-features from the television of my youth. This time, however, the blood was real.
The trouble started when McConnell concluded his involvement in Trump’s second impeachment trial with a speech that laid the 1/6 debacle at the former president’s feet — although McConnell, hypocritically, voted to acquit the president. “January 6th was a disgrace,” he intoned, “American citizens attacked their own government. They used terrorism to try to stop a specific piece of democratic business they did not like.”
“Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty…. Let me put that to the side for one moment and reiterate something I said weeks ago: There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day,” McConnell continued.
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Of course, McConnell’s heavy-handed statement was calculated; with his acquittal vote — using a constitutional fig leaf that focused incorrectly at process and not at the facts of the case — he was able to have it both ways. The former majority leader was attempting a dangerous straddle: Denounce the man beloved by the GOP base but vote to clear his name. People who gamble on horses lay this kind of parlay bet all the time, putting money on multiple horses in the same race. Usually, they go home busted.
McConnell wasn’t busted, but it did not take long for the outrage of this betrayal to summon the wrath of the Beast of Palm Beach. Bereft of his usual instant-reply Twitter platform, Trump required actual time to form sentences and paragraphs — someone wrote it, anyway — and the result was a screed that sounds like a needle scratching off the largest record in the universe.
“The Republican Party can never again be respected or strong with political ‘leaders’ like Sen. Mitch McConnell at its helm,” said Trump in a lengthy statement. “McConnell’s dedication to business as usual, status quo policies, together with his lack of political insight, wisdom, skill, and personality, has rapidly driven him from Majority Leader to Minority Leader, and it will only get worse.”
“Mitch is a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack,” continued Trump, “and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again. He will never do what needs to be done, or what is right for our Country. Where necessary and appropriate, I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First.”
Thus, the gauntlet was thrown. Trump, at this point, may retain enough power and influence within the party to tear it apart from the inside out if he so chooses, much as he tore the Capitol building apart on 1/6.
McConnell’s people were quick to rally to the senator’s defense. “Trump going total mean girl ought to feed the cable beast for weeks,” tweeted McConnell’s first chief of staff, Janet Mullins Grissom.
“It seems an odd choice for someone who claims they want to lead the GOP to attack a man who has been unanimously elected to lead Senate Republicans a history-making eight times,” noted former McConnell aide Billy Piper. “But we have come to expect these temper tantrums when he feels threatened — just ask any of his former chiefs of staff or even his vice president.”
Trump’s people got busy, too, none more so than world-class lickspittle Lindsey Graham. “I’m more worried about 2022 than I’ve ever been,” Graham moaned to Sean Hannity on Fox News. “I don’t want to eat our own. President Trump is the most consequential Republican in the party. If Mitch McConnell doesn’t understand that, he’s missing a lot.… We need to knock this off. Kevin McCarthy is the leader of the house Republicans. He has taken a different approach to President Trump. I would advise Senator McConnell to do that.”
I dunno, Lindsey. “Eating our own” looks to be the top special on the GOP menu for the foreseeable. Feel free to call for seconds.