Former President Trump on Tuesday unloaded on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and vowed to back challengers to lawmakers who have crossed him.
In a statement released through his Save America super PAC, Trump blamed McConnell for the GOP’s 2020 Senate losses and called for Republicans to elect new leaders to carry on his legacy.
“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.
“He will never do what needs to be done, or what is right for our Country. 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,” Trump said.
The statement arrived days after McConnell ripped into the former president in a speech from the Senate floor after voting to acquit him on impeachment charges that he incited a mob to attack the Capitol. Despite his vote, McConnell said that Trump was “practically and morally” responsible for the deadly siege.
McConnell also left open the possibility that Trump could face civil or criminal charges for his role in the riots, even though he was acquitted by the Senate.
“The leader of the free world cannot spend weeks thundering that shadowy forces are stealing our country and then feign surprise,” McConnell said.
“President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen, unless the statute of limitations has run. … [He] didn’t get away with anything yet,” McConnell added.
McConnell has said that he and Trump have not spoken since mid-December, as tensions grew over the former president’s unsubstantiated claims that the election had been stolen from him.
The impeachment trial remarks from the GOP Senate leader, who is widely viewed as a skilled political tactician, sent a clear signal that he believes the party must forge an identity that is separate from Trump to remain competitive in future elections.
The bad blood between Trump and McConnell, who had a fruitful alliance while Trump was in office, could foreshadow an intraparty civil war that plays out in primaries across the country as the GOP searches for a way forward now that Trump is out of office.
Just seven Republican senators joined all 50 Democrats in voting to convict Trump, while McConnell and 42 other Republicans voted to acquit. A two-thirds vote was needed to find Trump guilty.
Trump remains enormously popular with the grassroots base and he has energized conservatives to turn out in record numbers.
But Democrats have also turned out in record numbers over the Trump years, and many mainstream Republicans view the former president as politically toxic with independents, moderates, women and suburban voters they need to win back majorities in the House and Senate.
Trump on Tuesday gave the clearest signal yet that he intends to exert his influence over the party by going after critics.
The former president blasted McConnell, saying the GOP leader’s “lack of political insight, wisdom, skill, and personality, has rapidly driven him from Majority Leader to Minority Leader.”
“It will only get worse… We know our America First agenda is a winner, not McConnell’s Beltway First agenda or Biden’s America Last,” Trump said.
Trump also boasted about receiving the most votes for any sitting president in history and claimed that his presence had “single-handedly” saved “at least 12 Senate seats” over the course of his time in office.
The former president urged Republicans to elect new leaders who would be loyal to his vision for the party.
“The Republican Party can never again be respected or strong with political ‘leaders’ like Sen. Mitch McConnell at its helm,” Trump said.
“He is destroying the Republican side of the Senate, and in so doing, seriously hurting our Country…He doesn’t have what it takes, never did, and never will.”
All of the GOP senators who voted to convict Trump have faced criticism from Republicans in their states, with some facing censure resolutions from their state parties.
Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) have been censured by their state parties for voting to convict Trump. State parties in Nebraska, Pennsylvania and Maine plan to discuss potential punitive measures against Sens. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), who also voted to convict.
State parties already censured Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Tom Rice (R-S.C.) for their votes to impeach Trump. The former president’s allies in the House tried to strip Cheney of her leadership post and have already begun campaigning against her.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) is the only GOP senator who voted to convict who is up for reelection this year, and Trump’s allies say she’s all but certain to face a primary challenger.
Murkowski has said she does not feel at home in a GOP that she says appears loyal to Trump above all else.
State party leaders have defended the punitive moves, saying they’re being inundated with outrage from their constituents who are furious at the lawmakers who did not defend Trump.
North Carolina GOP chairman Michael Whatley said Tuesday that “hundreds of volunteers and activists” contacted him to express their disappointment with Burr after his vote to convict, resulting in the state party censure.
Sasse, a conservative who has been an unwavering critic of Trump, acknowledged Tuesday that it’s still Trump’s party.
“If you look at polling in the short-term, it surely appears that way,” Sasse said on NPR.
But he urged Republicans to think about being more than a party focused on “the personality of Donald Trump.”
“I think there’s a whole bunch of stuff the party of Lincoln and Reagan needs to do to persuade people we have a 2030 agenda, not a 20-minute Twitter agenda,” Sasse said.
GOP strategists are worried about the increasingly likely possibility of an ugly primary season between Trump loyalists and those who believe the party must move past the former president to be successful.
“Republicans need to stop re-fighting the losing battles of yesterday and focus on tomorrow,” said GOP strategist Colin Reed. “To regain relevance – and more importantly the ability to govern – Republicans must focus their energy outward, not on each other. Until we do, we’ll just be shouting in the wind, and President Biden. and the Democrats will relish every minute of it.”