Former U.S. president Donald Trump lashed out at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday, signalling a growing feud between the two most important voices in the Republican Party.
“Mitch is a dour, sullen and unsmiling political hack, and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again,” Trump said in a statement released through his political action committee amid the fallout over his second impeachment trial.
Trump and McConnell parted ways in the weeks after the Nov. 3 presidential election, with Trump irked that McConnell had recognized Democrat Joe Biden as the winner.
They have not spoken since, a former White House official said.
The loss of both the White House to Biden and control of the Senate — which Democrats picked up in a pair of upset Georgia election run-off victories last month — leaves Republicans on edge as they plot how to win back congressional control in 2022.
The gap between the two men widened when McConnell declared on the Senate floor on Saturday that Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the deadly Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol.
‘He didn’t get away with anything yet’
Minutes after the Senate voted Saturday, the Senate’s longest-serving Republican leader said Trump’s actions surrounding the attack on Congress were “a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty,” adding he was outraged by the violence and Trump’s repeated false claims that his election defeat was the result of widespread fraud.
He even noted that although Trump is now out of office, he remains subject to the country’s criminal and civil laws.
“He didn’t get away with anything yet,” McConnell said.
The two are trying to push the party in opposite directions — McConnell back toward the roots of a budget-focused, pro-trade party, while Trump, who is still backed by a large portion of the Republican voter base, advocates a more populist approach.
Trump vows to stay involved
McConnell, who normally stays out of intra-party conflict, told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published on Monday that he would consider “trying to affect the outcome of the primaries” during the 2022 congressional campaign season.
He said that he welcomed Republicans of all stripes, but “what I care about is electability.”
In his statement on Tuesday, Trump pledged he will continue to be involved in Republican politics.
“Where necessary and appropriate, I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First. We want brilliant, strong, thoughtful, and compassionate leadership.”
A decade ago, when Republicans took a sharp turn to the right with the Tea Party movement, it was McConnell who pointed out that the movement’s right-wing candidates may have been able to win some Republican Senate primaries but often sank in the general election.
That era saw the Democratic majority in the Senate swell to 59-41 by 2009. Republicans reclaimed the majority in 2015, in part due to McConnell’s support of more moderate Republican Senate candidates.
Despite their current differences, McConnell played a major role during Trump’s administration in helping pass the president’s signature 2017 tax cut and in confirming three conservative justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.