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The collapsed alliance between Trump and McConnell, who worked hand in hand on political and legislative strategy for four years, finally brought the GOP to the account that never happened after the 2016 election. Trump could attempt a another blow to McConnell in the coming days at the Conservative Political Action Conference. But McConnell probably won’t hear him: He shouldn’t be speaking to CPAC, Republican sources say. McConnell still hasn’t spoken to Trump for more than two months.

And talks with nearly a dozen Senate Republicans on Monday night make it clear that it will take more than a war of words with Trump to knock McConnell off his perch. Both ways. John Thune (RS.D.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), McConnell’s two most likely successors at the moment, support him vocally.

“Sen. McConnell is the best Republican leader since I’ve been here. He understands this place better than anyone, ”said Cornyn. “I believe he enjoys the full support of the conference.”

When asked if he agrees with McConnell’s criticisms of Trump, Cornyn said, “I look forward to the day when we can move on to other things.” He said he had no plans to visit Trump in Florida, as Senator Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) and Parliamentary Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy have done in recent days.

Many senators take little interest in arbitrating McConnell’s heated comments about Trump’s “dereliction of duty” during last month’s insurgency and Trump’s blunt assessment of “a lack of political insight, wisdom, competence and personality ”. But few share Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) And Graham’s assessment that McConnell’s criticism of Trump has become a political anchor weighing heavily on the GOP.

“Republicans have a big tent,” said Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.). “There is strength in having solid discussions. There is strength in having differences of opinion. And politicians are always going to be back and forth. “

“I support [McConnell]. I also support the outside part of the party, ”said Senator Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “The biggest disaster would be if we somehow broke up. This is exactly what Democrats are looking for. And most of us will let time be our friend.

Despite all the fanfare the Trump-McConnell battle has received over the past two weeks, the ultimate referendum on who will lead the party won’t happen for at least a year, until the GOP Senate primaries begin to unfold. take place seriously. And McConnell’s willingness to enter the GOP primaries this cycle against candidates backed by Trump whom he considers ineligible portends brutal infighting for Senate control on the Republican side.

In his two-page statement denigrating McConnell, Trump said that “our America First program is a winner, not McConnell’s Beltway First program. In an interview this month, McConnell said the primaries litmus test is simple: who can win a general election?

“The problem is not whether or not you like Donald Trump. The problem is, can you win in November? McConnell said.

Since McConnell was just unanimously re-elected as GOP leader in November, he won’t face a leadership campaign until after the next election. He has won previous leadership contests without any dissent, despite the occasional growl from senators like Johnson, who was essentially ditched by the National Party during his run for re-election in 2016.

If McConnell is as toxic among Republican voters as Trump loyalists claim, it would be more evident in deep red states. But two GOP senators for re-election in the Conservative states, James Lankford of Oklahoma and Mike Crapo of Idaho, both said they still supported McConnell as GOP leader on Monday.

“People are going to have different opinions on different things at different times. It’s just drama, ”Lankford said. “A year ago, everyone was saying how great a tactician Mitch is.

The Senate is not like the House; he is less fractional and there is no organized opposition within the Senate GOP to McConnell as leader. Johnson said McConnell’s leadership position was “not even a question on the table.”

“When the leader speaks – he can certainly speak for himself – but he must also realize that what he says is going to be reflected in the conference,” Johnson said. “I didn’t like what he said.”

“I am not aware of any leadership challenges for him. I don’t know of any, ”said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Who did not directly say he supported McConnell and suggested that GOP voters had already chosen the party leadership. “For voters, there is no civil war. They made their choices. They don’t want to come back at an early part of the party. “

McConnell has just been re-elected for a six-year term. And if he can hold out for two more years, he can match former Sen. Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.) As the longest-serving Senate party leader of all time.

But even more important is whether McConnell will overtake Chuck Schumer as Majority Leader and be able to hand over some constraints to Biden’s presidency. It seemed that McConnell had won a majority ahead of the Georgia special election, and it’s clear he didn’t really appreciate Trump’s repeated attacks on the electoral process and the false allegations of mass voter fraud that dominated this race.

“One of my favorite sayings about politics is that the winners get the politics and the losers go home. The reason we might well spend a $ 1.9 trillion [coronavirus bill] … It’s because we lost the Senate, ”McConnell said in this month’s interview. “And the reason we lost, as everyone knows, is that there was so much confusion out there as to whether even the vote made a difference that it disappointed us.

Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.


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