Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) avoided commenting on the hold former President Donald Trump has on the GOP, pivoting discussion instead to the Republican Party’s hopes for the midterm elections, a time when incumbent administrations typically lose seats.
What ’22 ought to be is a referendum, and it often is, on the performance of the new administration,” McConnell said during an interview with a Kentucky PBS affiliate. “And frequently it’s not a good experience for the party of the administration,” he added, pointing to losses Presidents Clinton, Obama, and Trump faced that cost their respective parties full control of Congress.
“Frequently, the American people have some level of buyers’ remorse two years in,” McConnell said. “So I think the ’22 election is not going to be about what Republicans are maybe saying about each other, but rather how the American people feel about the performance of the new administration.”
McConnell did not say he would support Trump, but noted that he would support the Republican presidential nominee come 2024, whoever that may be.
McConnell and Trump have a rocky relationship, particularly after McConnell declined to back Trump’s fictitious claims that the 2020 general election was fraudulent. McConnell ultimately voted to acquit Trump during his Senate trial on charges that Trump incited an insurrection against Congress, after groups of his supporters stormed the United States Capitol in a bid to overturn the election results after Trump lost to Joe Biden.
McConnell, for his part, has said that he was defending the Constitution by voting to acquit.
“There is no question former President Trump bears moral responsibility. His supporters stormed the Capitol because of the unhinged falsehoods he shouted into the world’s largest megaphone,” he wrote earlier this year in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. “His behavior during and after the chaos was also unconscionable, from attacking Vice President Mike Pence during the riot to praising the criminals after it ended.”
“But senators take our own oaths,” he added. “Our job wasn’t to find some way, any way, to inflict a punishment. The Senate’s first and foundational duty was to protect the Constitution.”
“The House’s ‘sole power of impeachment‘ and the Senate’s ‘sole power to try all impeachments’ would constitute an unlimited circular logic with no stopping point at former officers,” he continued. “Any private citizen could be disqualified. This is why one House manager had to argue the Senate possesses ‘absolute, unqualified’ jurisdiction. But nobody really accepts that.”
“The Constitution presupposes that anyone convicted by the Senate must have an office from which to be removed,” McConnell later explains, saying that his own constitutional philosophy is aligned with constitutional scholar Justice Joseph Story, who posited that removing a president is “mandatory” upon conviction. “This doesn’t mean leaving office provides immunity from accountability. Former officials are ‘still liable to be tried and punished in the ordinary tribunals of justice.’ Criminal law and civil litigation ensure there is no so-called January exemption.”