When it comes to conducting coups in 2021, Donald Trump is 0 for 2. The latest, of course, is his failed attempt to oust the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
I have recently documented how Trump’s political affiliation does not matter much in the away match of the GOP primary elections. It turns out that his condemnations are not in the inner game of Senate leadership contests either. At least that’s what this Politico headline suggests: “The GOP cancels Trump’s bid to oust McConnell. “
As the story goes, Trump has tried in vain to overthrow McConnell – probably in retaliation for McConnell’s decision to acknowledge Joe Biden’s victory. McConnell’s blistering comments about the January 6 attack accelerated Trump’s fervor (ironically, after McConnell voted not to convict Trump in his second state court case).
But Trump has recently turned up the heat. “How this guy can become a leader is unimaginable,” Trump wrote recently. “[T]his comes not only from me but from pretty much everyone in the Republican Party. He’s a disaster and should be replaced as ‘Leader’ ASAP! “
The only problem? No incumbent Republican senators agree with Trump, and only two Republican candidates for the Senate (Alaska’s Kelly Tshibaka and Missouri’s Eric Greitens) have endorsed this view.
It would be a mistake to read too much into this. As conservative author Ramesh Ponnuru noted, despite documented signs of weakness in the GOP, “Trump retains great strength in the party and remains its most powerful leader” and at the same time “is also stronger than he looks.”
This paradox is true: Trump is the obvious frontrunner to win the Republican presidential candidate in 2024, and he clearly lacks the authority to persuade or impose his will in other ways. He is powerful and talented, but also lazy and incompetent. Put another way, he is formidable, but not invincible. Seeing his enemies thrive is a potent reminder of this.
If “the best revenge is to live well,” then McConnell ends his year on a high note. Just this week, Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer had to give up trying to pass Build Back Better as soon as possible (Democrats’ plans to pass the Social Expenditure Bill have been thwarted by Senator Joe Manchin – who happens to have met with McConnell on Thursday). Also this week, McConnell took the arrows to raise the debt limit, helping the country avoid default, while preventing Republicans from getting involved in the vote. It was the kind of servant leadership that creates loyalty among the ranks – a smart political move for a party ready to take back the majority next year.
While it may be difficult to stop Trump in 2024, McConnell (who already holds the record for a Republican leader) is on track to become the longest-serving party leader in Senate history in 2023, where he would break Sen. Mike Mansfield’s 16-year record.
In a political environment where such long-lived achievements seem unthinkable, McConnell (who has been unanimously elected leader of his caucus every two years since 2006) is as good at the inner game of politics as Trump is at giving gas to Republican voters.
And while McConnell may not be looking to start a direct fight with Trump, he’s clearly not over trolling him. Take, for example, his comments this week on Parliament’s Commission on 6 January. “I think the fact-finding is interesting. We’ll all see it,” he said. McConnell told Spectrum News. “It was a horrible event, and I think what they’re trying to figure out is something the public needs to know.” Corresponding he told CNN: “It will be interesting to reveal all the participants who were involved.”
Just as Trump showed no remorse for his failed coup attempt, do not expect him to lose sleep over not beating McConnell down. Ordinary politicians would be embarrassed by their failures, but Trump is playing a number game. You miss all the pictures you do not take. Trump’s goal of defeat within the GOP also includes rep. Liz Cheney and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp. He will not miss them all.
2021 was a bad year for a coup. Will we be so lucky in the new year?