Trump gives voice to years of conservative grievances against Mitch McConnell
WASHINGTON, D.C., February 18, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Former President Donald Trump excoriated Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack” on Tuesday, in response to the Republican leader blaming Trump for the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill.
In a February 13 floor speech, McConnell claimed that the January 6 rioters stormed the Capitol “because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth — because he was angry he’d lost an election … There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day.”
As covered by LifeSiteNews, the original allegation was that Trump incited the riot against certifying the 2020 election results by urging supporters at the “March to Save America” rally to march to the Capitol building.
But after review of Trump’s actual words confirmed that he had actually asked protesters to “peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard” and “cheer on our brave senators and congressmen-and-women” who wanted an audit of the election results, as well as the discovery that the violence was started by people who either left Trump’s speech early or skipped it entirely, Trump’s foes shifted to claiming that Trump provoked the riot simply by challenging the election results up until their congressional certification.
“The Republican Party can never again be respected or strong with political ‘leaders’ like Sen. Mitch McConnell at its helm,” Trump’s response began. “McConnell’s dedication to business as usual, status quo policies, together with his lack of political insight, wisdom, skill, and personality, has rapidly driven him from Majority Leader to Minority Leader, and it will only get worse.”
“In ‘Mitch’s Senate,’ over the last two election cycles, I single-handedly saved at least 12 Senate seats, more than eight in the 2020 cycle alone,” Trump continued, “and then came the Georgia disaster, where we should have won both U.S. Senate seats, but McConnell matched the Democrat offer of $2,000 stimulus checks with $600. How does that work? It became the Democrats’ principal advertisement, and a big winner for them it was.”
“McConnell has no credibility on China because of his family’s substantial Chinese business holding,” the former president alleged. “He does nothing on this tremendous economic and military threat.
“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 warned. “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’s broadside against McConnell brings to the forefront conservative grievances that have been simmering against the GOP Senate leader for years.
Chief among those grievances is McConnell’s record of backing establishmentarians over conservatives in GOP primaries — sometimes resulting in Democrats defeating both.
In 2017, Democrat Doug Jones pulled off an upset in reliably red Alabama when he defeated former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore in a special election for the state’s Senate seat, which had been vacated when Trump chose Jeff Sessions to be his Attorney General. Conventional wisdom blamed the loss on primary voters nominating Moore, whose candidacy was fatally wounded by last-minute claims of sexual assault and molestation.
At The Federalist, however, Republican consultant Jordan Gehrke argued that McConnell deserved the lion’s share of the blame for Moore winning the nomination in the first place. McConnell and his Senate Leadership Fund PAC backed for the nomination state Attorney General Luther Strange, whose initial appointment to the Senate by then-Gov. Robert Bently was viewed by many as a scheme to get Strange to stop investigating the governor for corruption. McConnell convinced Trump to endorse Strange, as well.
But there was a third choice in the primary: conservative Rep. Mo Brooks, a member of the House Freedom Caucus. McConnell’s camp spent $4 million to knock out Brooks early, based on the theory that Moore would be easier for Strange to defeat once the primary was narrowed to two Republicans. Instead, Gehrke writes, “by injecting themselves in such a ham-fisted way, they had made Mitch McConnell the issue, not Roy Moore,” focusing the primary on the question, “Do you really want to reward McConnell with his millions of K Street cash, or do you want to send him a message to stop messing around in our state?”
In addition, winning Republicans McConnell initially opposed include Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, and Ron Johnson, while he backed the nominations of GOP candidates Tommy Thompson, Rick Berg, and Connie Mack, all of whom went on to lose their races.
The Blaze senior editor Daniel Horowitz attributes Republicans’ failure to repeal ObamaCare during Trump’s first term partly to McConnell’s support of moderate-to-liberal Republican senators, including Susan Collins, Shelly Moore Capito, Lindsey Graham, Bill Cassidy, Lamar Alexander, and pro-abortion Lisa Murkowski, of whom McConnell said in 2018, “I’m proud she’s in the Republican conference.”
Yet this track record did not stop McConnell from telling the Wall Street Journal this week that he plans to increase his intervention in Republican primaries, boasting, “What I care about is electability.”
In 2015, the Center for Medical Progress’s release of undercover videos exposing Planned Parenthood’s sale of aborted baby parts intensified demands to defund the abortion giant, which would have required a standoff between Republican lawmakers and then-president Barack Obama over which side would give in first to end a government shutdown.
“According to a source with close ties to the pro-life movement, McConnell and [then-Speaker of the House John] Boehner spent the month of August warning pro-life organizations, including National Right to Life, Americans United for Life, Susan B. Anthony List and Family Research Council, against backing conservatives’ efforts to stop taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood” via a continuing resolution, Conservative Review’s Blaze Bullock reported at the time.
“McConnell and Boehner are just doing this to make it seem like the pro-life groups aren’t unified on the issue,” the unidentified source told Bullock. “Waiting until we have a Republican in the White House doesn’t make any sense because we still won’t be able to get to 60 votes in the Senate,” another source, a Capitol Hill aide, added. “Plus, Republicans will be even less likely to try to defund it, because if the government shuts down they really won’t be able to blame Democrats.”
Trump’s 2016 victory excited conservatives with the prospect of finally defunding the abortion giant and enacting numerous other reforms the movement has championed for years, such as banning late-term abortion. But while the Trump administration did much for the preborn via executive action, little came in the way of new laws sent by a GOP-controlled Congress to Trump’s desk.
Just days after Trump’s inauguration, pro-life lawmakers such as Rep. Trent Franks pressed McConnell at a Republican retreat on whether he would work to enact pro-life bills passed by the House of Representatives. In response, McConnell refused to commit to bringing pro-life bills to the Senate floor for a vote, because not enough Democrats would cross the aisle to provide the 60 votes needed to overcome the current filibuster rules.
It would have been possible (if time-consuming) to circumvent the filibuster without repeal by forcing the minority party to engage in a literal filibuster and enforce the “two-speech rule” limiting the number of times individual Democrats can speak. But McConnell has long refused to consider repealing or altering the rule.
“The public doesn’t want to hear about process; they want to see us get stuff done,” Republican Rep. Mike Rogers said at the time. “I think there is a very low threshold of tolerance among our electorate right now for historical process [and] precedent.”
“We have sent border security bills to the Senate that go nowhere,” Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin lamented. “Sanctuary city bills that get stuck. We stood up against the Iran nuclear deal. The Senate never even voted on it. We have a very impatient Republican House and a very impatient electorate … We want to get things done.”
Republican defenders of the filibuster argued it must remain as a safeguard against the harm Democrats could do if they retook Congress and the White House. Now that they have, Democrat leaders continue to discuss potentially repealing the filibuster anyway; it remains to be seen if they will succeed in doing so.
The most commonly-invoked point in McConnell’s favor is his shepherding through the Senate 226 Trump judicial nominees, including 54 federal appellate judges and three Supreme Court justices. But while the quantity of those confirmations is widely celebrated on the Right, their caliber has gone largely overlooked.
Among the judges nominated by Trump and approved by McConnell’s Senate were Charles Goodwin and Robert Colville, who are pro-abortion. There are also Patrick Bumatay and Mary Rowland, who were previously members of LGBT advocacy groups; and Michael Bogren, who as an attorney had represented the City of Lansing, Michigan’s, efforts to ban Christian farm owners from its local farmers’ market over their refusal to host same-sex “weddings.” With the exception of Bogren, who withdrew his nomination under pressure, all were easily confirmed.
Trump’s first two Supreme Court appointees received far more scrutiny from senators, but were still approved despite raising red flags from an originalist perspective.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, who went on to pen the notorious Bostock ruling that rewrote the 1964 Civil Rights Act to accommodate “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” told senators that the Obergefell ruling’s redefinition of marriage is “absolutely settled law” and that judges should start every case with a “heavy, heavy presumption in favor of precedent,” which should only be overturned in “a very few cases.”
Justice Brett Kavanaugh also expressed deference for judicial precedent such as Roe v. Wade and Obergefell, to the point where liberal Republican Sen. Susan Collins expressly based her vote to confirm him on her confidence that he would vote to uphold both left-wing rulings, but such concerns were largely overshadowed by the baseless last-minute rape claims made against Kavanaugh.
While the primary responsibility for selecting quality judicial nominees of course rests with the president, the constitutional duty to give “advice and consent” to those nominees means the Senate and its leaders also have a responsibility to review the president’s selections to assess their character, competence, and judicial philosophy.
Perhaps the most explosive charge in Trump’s response is his reference to the McConnell family’s “substantial Chinese business holding.” It concerns the Foremost Group, a shipping company founded by McConnell’s father-in-law James Chao. McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, served as Trump’s Secretary of Transportation.
“The Chao family are deeply embedded commercially and financially with the Chinese government,” says Peter Schweizer, president of the Government Accountability Institute. “The Chinese government essentially set them up in the shipping business. Their ships — these are large cargo ships that transport a large amount of goods around the Pacific.” The Chinese government pays for the construction of these ships, as well as provides their crew and contracts.
“Business in China is done with a political purpose,” he continues. “The China State Shipbuilding Corporation is controlled by the government, by the Communist Party, and they do business deals with people in the West with the expectation that they will get things in return.”
“That’s why it’s not just a story of a political family getting wealthy off of a foreign government,” Schweizer warns. “It is a very serious question about the decisions that are being made by Elaine Chao as the transportation secretary, but also as Mitch McConnell is the Senate majority leader. The suggestion here is that the Chinese government hopes that by striking these deals with the Chao family over the years and making them wealthy, that they are going to, in a sense, encourage Elaine Chao and Mitch McConnell to make decisions that are favorable to them. That’s what I think the concern is here, and I think on a whole host of issues, there seems to be at least circumstantial evidence that they have been very pro-China in their policy prescriptions.”
When Democrat Amy McGrath raised these issues in an ad for Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race last year, McConnell campaign manager Kevin Golden did not address the substance of the accusations but called the attack “racist,” claiming it would not have been run “if Elaine Chao was born in Europe.”
Despite all of the above, McConnell’s support among the Right’s more establishmentarian institutions remains unshakeable. “His achievements are legion,” Republican strategist Karl Rove writes in the Wall Street Journal, “including skillfully maneuvering Mr. Trump’s legislative accomplishments and judicial appointments through the Senate.”
While claiming McConnell’s aforementioned Chinese business holdings are “nonexistent,” National Review’s editors declare the minority leader “canny, tough-minded,” “willing to play the long game in advancing the interests of the Republican Party and of conservatism,” and “genuinely interested in building up his party, rather than tearing it down if he doesn’t get his way.”