McConnell Relies on Silent Treatment to Deflect Trump Attacks

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell has a well-practiced method of dealing with questions about former President Donald Trump: Don’t answer them.

McConnell has been a regular target of Trump, who is attempting to maintain his dominance over the Republican Party despite losing the 2020 election. On Wednesday, Trump lashed out at McConnell as “gutless and clueless” for failing -- along with former Vice President Mike Pence -- to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory.

In the same statement, Trump directed insults at Representative Liz Cheney, who regularly answers questions about the former president with sharp criticism of his false claims about the election that she said Monday are “poisoning our democratic system.”

McConnell Relies on Silent Treatment to Deflect Trump Attacks

Cheney is now poised to lose her post in House GOP leadership with both Trump and No. 2 House Republican Steve Scalise calling for her ouster. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has said Cheney’s outspoken criticism of Trump is muddling the party’s message as the GOP attempts to regain control of the House in the 2022 elections.

McConnell also sees a shot at Republicans retaking the Senate, despite having to defend open seats caused by the retirements of five GOP incumbents. So when he’s asked about Trump, the Kentucky Republican instead delivers answers about Biden and Democrats.

“One hundred percent of my focus is on stopping this new administration,” McConnell said at a news conference in Kentucky on Wednesday when asked about the turmoil surrounding Cheney and Trump’s unfounded charges the election of Biden was fraudulent.

McConnell has always walked a fine line with Trump, who still holds sway over many Republican voters. Despite calling Trump “practically and morally responsible” for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol because of the lies he fed to supporters, McConnell voted to acquit Trump in his impeachment trial on a technicality. The GOP leader said he believed trials after officials leave office are unconstitutional, after he prevented a trial from starting while Trump was in office by refusing to reconvene the Senate.

Since then, McConnell has studiously avoided the subject of Trump, despite regular questions from reporters. Usually he says some version of comments like he’s focused on the future, or dealing with the new administration. He has made one other concession to Trump, saying he would endorse him for president in 2024 if he won the Republican nomination.

Trump, meanwhile, has continued to rail at McConnell.

“Had Mike Pence referred the information on six states (only need two) back to State Legislatures, and had gutless and clueless MINORITY Leader Mitch McConnell (he blew two seats in Georgia that should have never been lost) fought to expose all of the corruption that was presented at the time, with more found since, we would have had a far different Presidential result, and our Country would not be turning into a socialist nightmare!” Trump said in a statement on Wednesday, in which he also lambasted Cheney.

Despite Trump’s attacks on McConnell, there’s no similar effort to oust him from his perch as the GOP leader in the Senate, a post he’s held longer than any other senator.

But the Trump drama still has the potential to spill over into Senate races, with McConnell defending GOP seats in battlegrounds like Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina and Wisconsin and seeking to go on offense to retake seats in Arizona and Georgia that gave the Democrats their majority.

McConnell said Wednesday Senate Republicans are united.

“What we have in the United States Senate is total unity from Susan Collins to Ted Cruz in opposition to what the Biden administration is trying to do to this country,” he said, accusing Democrats of trying to “turn America into a socialist country.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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