Yesterday, Donald Trump fired back at Sen. Mitch McConnell after the latter lambasted the former president in an op-ed for USA Today. That article was essentially a rehash of McConnell’s floor speech following Trump’s acquittal. In the speech, the minority leader made the case that the former president was morally and practically responsible for the January 6th riot and that he had not been vindicated (see Mitch McConnell Calls for President Trump to Be Tried as a Criminal Over the Capitol Riot but Is Afraid to Put it in Writing). Trump obviously didn’t agree and finally responded (see Donald Trump Takes a Flamethrower to Mitch McConnell).
Regardless, let’s forget about who’s right or wrong here about January 6th for a moment because McConnell’s lashing out strikes at the heart of a bigger question going forward for the GOP: Namely, what role will Donald Trump play in it? We can’t know that for sure, though I suspect it’ll be significant. What I do know is that figures like Mitch McConnell want him to stay on the golf course.
Given that, one should consider how absolutely stupid the establishment continues to be in their handling of Trump. If their goal is to rid themselves of Trump, you know how you don’t do that? You don’t do that by attacking him publicly multiple times after he’s gone, mostly silent for a month. You certainly don’t do that by once again valuing virtue signaling over sound political strategy.
I had to laugh when Fox News put this headline up.
McConnell silent in aftermath of Trump broadside as ex-president threatens to get involved in GOP primaries https://t.co/Ryby0GiDI1
— Fox News (@FoxNews) February 17, 2021
McConnell may be silent at this specific moment, but one could hardly consider his floor speech and hand wringing op-ed an exercise is muteness. In other words, McConnell started this fight, and what’s so ironic is that it will end up having the opposite effect he intended. You’d think that five years in, these establishment figures would have learned that Trump’s base, which still makes up a huge part of the GOP primary vote going forward, does not respond to lecturing from the perch of faux political outrage. In fact, they tend to become more defiant in the face of such. That may make a lot of blue-checks on Twitter uncomfortable, but it’s a political reality they can’t wish away with yet another schoolmarm performance.
Because of these realities, you’d think the rest of the smart set would be self-aware enough to realize that making Trump their mortal enemy is incredibly counter-productive. This is especially true if you don’t want Trump to cruise to the nomination in 2024, as McConnell clearly doesn’t.
Republicans: If you want to move past Trump, all you have to do is stop. McConnell’s speech was stupid because it was always going to have the opposite effect than intended. You want to galvanize Trump’s base and catapult him to the 2024 nomination? Then keep attacking him.
— Bonchie (@bonchieredstate) February 16, 2021
Yet, it seems more and more apparent that the establishment simply can’t control themselves. I maintain that a grand bargain is possible in which Trump isn’t a nearly 80-year-old nominee in four years. But that will never be realized by spending more time virtue signaling to the left from the pages of a liberal rag like USA Today. Rather, that will simply split the party for good. It certainly won’t be realized if McConnell and GOP leadership don’t accept that Trump’s base isn’t going away and that candidates they approve of will have to be at the forefront. That’s going to look a lot less like Larry Hogan and a lot more like Ron DeSantis.
In the end, the establishment can not simply lecture away Trump and the 55+% of GOP primary voters who still say he’s their top choice. That reality can be heeded, or they can enjoy a permanent minority, assuming that’s not actually their goal.