Donald Trump once described Mitch McConnell as his “ace in the hole” and wrote, in a foreword to the Senate Republican leader’s autobiography, he “couldn’t have asked for a better partner” in Washington.
Except, according to Trump, he didn’t.
Speaking to the Washington Post for a profile of the Senate minority leader published on Monday, Trump said he told McConnell: “Why don’t you write it for me and I’ll put it in, Mitch? Because that’s the way life works.”
McConnell did not dispute Trump’s account, about the book The Long Game, telling the paper: “I really don’t have anything to add related to him.”
The Post profile lands at a tricky time for Republican leaders. Last week’s stunning victory in the election for governor in Virginia was achieved by a candidate who kept Trump at arm’s length while deploying many of his tactics. But the former president remains a dominant presence.
He and McConnell, the two most powerful men in the GOP, are firmly at odds over Trump’s lie that the presidential election was stolen and over control of a party McConnell steers in the 50-50 Senate, which Democrats control via Vice-President Kamala Harris.
McConnell’s support for the bipartisan infrastructure deal which the House sent to Joe Biden’s desk on Friday only deepened the divide. In a statement on Sunday, Trump said “all Republicans who voted for Democrat longevity should be ashamed of themselves in particular, Mitch McConnell”.
The Post spoke to many who know and work with or against McConnell. The Illinois senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat, spoke of being cloistered with him on 6 January, when Trump supporters attacked the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election.
Durbin said: “I thought to myself, ‘This could be a transformative moment. He appears to have taken this very seriously.’”
McConnell voted to acquit Trump in his resulting impeachment trial, though he excoriated the former president on the Senate floor.
John Yarmuth, a senior House Democrat from McConnell’s state, Kentucky, told the Post about working with McConnell on campaigns in their youth but said: “He never wanted to change the world. This is all about being, not doing.
“He clearly doesn’t care about being labeled a hypocrite. It just doesn’t bother him. He is brazen about it. That’s one of the cynical sides of Mitch. He doesn’t care. If it’s expedient, he’ll do it.”
In his interview, Trump emphasized his role, with McConnell, in passing tax cuts, slashing regulations and stocking the judiciary with conservatives, three on the supreme court. He also bemoaned McConnell’s failure to back his attempt to steal the election.
The Post also noted a little-noticed split between the Senate minority leader and his daughter, Porter McConnell, who campaigns against big money in politics and against Republican attacks on voting rights. McConnell, the paper said, “declined to respond directly” when asked about his daughter’s activism.
Also on Monday, the Hill reported that senior Republican senators are worried controversial nominees endorsed by Trump, Herschel Walker in Georgia and Sean Parnell in Pennsylvania prominent among them, could cost the party its chance to retake the chamber next year.
Durbin said McConnell was now “looking at Trump, not in the rearview mirror, but looking through the windshield and realizing he’s going to have to live with this man in the Republican party for the foreseeable future.”