David Jackson | USA TODAY
McConnell slams Trump moments after acquitting him
Moments after voting to acquit Donald Trump of the impeachment charge, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump was “practically and morally responsible” for the deadly Capitol riot. Still, he said conviction would be unconstitutional. (Feb. 13)
WASHINGTON – Seeking to keep control of a divided Republican Party, Donald Trump on Tuesday attacked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – the GOP’s highest-ranking elected official – after comments he made about Trump’s culpability for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
“The Republican Party can never again be respected or strong with political ‘leaders’ like Sen. Mitch McConnell at its helm,” Trump said in a written statement put out by a political action committee called the “Save America PAC.”
In a stark statement that laid bare the party’s fractiousness over Trump, the ex-president described McConnell as a “hack” who will not be able to lead the Republican Party back to victory. Division within the party has been on full display since the Capitol riots, after which 10 House Republicans voted to impeach him and seven Senate Republicans voted to convict him at his impeachment trial Saturday, when he was acquitted.
The statement came three days after McConnell criticized Trump over the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, even as he voted to acquit the former president at the impeachment trial. McConnell said he did so because he did not think it was constitutional to hold an impeachment trial of a former president.
The Senate Republican leader did, however, hold Trump responsible for the attack, saying Trump’s false claims of fraud in his election loss to Joe Biden inspired extremist followers to commit violence.
“This was an intensifying crescendo of conspiracy theories, orchestrated by an outgoing president who seemed determined to either overturn the voters’ decisions or else torch our institutions on the way out,” McConnell said on Saturday.
Trump has not spoken on camera since leaving the White House. His office has put out written statements under his name, as it did after the Senate acquittal vote on Saturday.
Trump thanked Republicans who supported him and, suggesting a future run, said the political movement he began with his 2016 election has “only just begun.”
So far, at least, Trump is winning the internal battle with Republicans who want him to go away. A Morning Consult/Politico poll released Tuesday said that “a majority of Republican voters (54 percent) said they would support Trump in a hypothetical 2024 presidential primary election.”
Republicans who back McConnell said Trump is the one who caused the GOP to lose control of Congress and the White House during last year’s elections.
“I love Trump warning about the demise of a party that just lost the House, Senate, and White House under him,” tweeted Brendan Buck, a former spokesman for GOP House speakers John Boehner and Paul Ryan.
Buck later added: “I am so here for this conflict and so Team Mitch.”
More: Mitch McConnell votes to acquit but says Trump’s actions were a ‘disgraceful dereliction of duty’
More: Republican leader Mitch McConnell: Attack at the Capitol was ‘provoked by the president’
In his written statement on Tuesday, Trump did not mention McConnell’s impeachment comments. He instead accused McConnell of practicing “business as usual” politics, and failing to stand up to Chinese trade practices.
Trump also blamed McConnell for Republicans losing control of the Senate, something for which McConnell holds Trump responsible. The Senate Republican leader has suggested that the party needs to move past Trump as it tries to regain control of the House and Senate in the 2022 elections.
Trump has vowed to support primary challengers to Republican lawmakers who either supported impeachment or refused to help him overturn the election. The latter group includes state officials like Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who Trump criticized as “inept” in his statement.
More: A bloody insurrection, a deadly pandemic: Historians weigh in on Trump’s legacy after his acquittal
More: ‘Tribalism is a hell of a drug.’ Trump impeachment trial reopens GOP battle lines even as he is acquitted
Trump also plans to get involved in the congressional elections, and may seek to win the presidency again in 2024.
“Mitch is a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack,” Trump said, “and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again.”
Seven Republicans were among the 57 senators who found Trump guilty of inciting the riot, but conviction required 67 votes, two-thirds of the Senate.
If the Senate had voted to convict, it could also have disqualified Trump from holding office in the future, nullifying a 2024 presidential run.
As the Democratic-led House moved to impeach Trump in mid-January, McConnell at one point said he had not decided on the president’s guilt. After his acquittal vote, McConnell made clear he based his decision on the belief that the trial was unconstitutional, not Trump’s guilt.
“Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty,” McConnell said in his speech.