Mitch McConnell’s strained relationship with Donald Trump has left him barely communicating with the president, insiders say.
McConnell, who has rallied to defend Senators left in the firing line following Trump’s failed Obamacare repeal bid, has reportedly been at loggerheads with the president – including a ‘shouting match’ between the two in early August.
That’s resulted in the senate leader not speaking to Trump in weeks – and questioning whether Trump will even make it to the end of his term after a string of PR disasters this summer, The New York Times reported.
Mitch McConnell has doubts about whether Donald Trump will make it to the end of his presidential term after a summer of disasters, insiders claim
Trump and McConnell were in a shouting match on August 9, due to the Obamacare repeal failure and Trump’s anger at ‘not being protected’ from the Russia probe, insiders said
The fiery confrontation between McConnell and Trump came during an August 9 phone call initiated by Trump, who was at his New Jersey golf course, Republican sources briefed on the conversation told the NYT at the time.
They said Trump felt betrayed after McConnell remarked that the president’s expectations were too high with regard to Obamacare.
But he also blamed McConnell for not protecting him from the investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election, they said.
Since then, McConnell has continued to fume at Trump’s behavior as president, particularly his antagonistic attitude towards certain Senators, sources said.
As the Senate leader, McConnell has found himself defending Republicans such as Trump skeptic Arizona senator John Flake from attacks by their own president, who objects to what he sees as betrayal.
In private, McConnell also made sharp remarks about Trump’s lack of knowledge about the presidency, and his unwillingness to learn the basics of governing, sources said.
He’s also said – in ‘offhand remarks,’ according to the report – that he is worried and baffled by where Trump is taking his presidency, and questioned if Trump will even be able to lead the party during the 2018 elections.
McConnell has also found himself having to side with his fellow senators against Trump, who has turned on any GOP members that he feels have betrayed him
Those feelings were stoked by Trump’s bizarre remarks after Charlottesville – in which he called neo-Nazi collaborators ‘very fine people’ and equated white supremacists with anti-fascist and liberal groups.
McConnell was reportedly horrified by those comments at the time, and later told members of advisory bodies who resigned as a result that he understood their anger, according to three sources.
At present, McConnell does not appear to be making any moves against Trump – which could prove difficult, given that Trump maintains a strong base of support despite his many setbacks.
But the Senate leader has stepped in to defend his colleagues from Trump-backed and Trump-inspired challengers for the Republican Senate primaries.
On Thursday, Trump launched a Twitter attack against Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who criticized Trump’s ‘nationalism’ and ‘instability’.
‘Great to see that Dr Kelli Ward is running against Flake Jeff Flake, who is WEAK on borders, crime and a non-factor in Senate,’ Trump wrote, ‘He’s toxic!’
On Tuesday, a SuperPAC allied with McConnell published a video titled ‘Chemtrail Kelli’ that painted Ward as a conspiracy-loving wingnut with the tagine ‘Not conservative. Just crazy ideas.’
One of those on Trump’s hitlist is Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who has questioned Trump’s stability. A McConnell-affiliated SuperPAC has released a video slamming Flake’s opponent
McConnell is also hosting a $1,000-a-seat fundraiser for Flake, Nevada senator Dean Heller, who also faces a Trump-inspired threat to his position, and Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska.
That was organized before Trump started taking shots at Flake, but indicates the tension between the president, who pays little heed to political norms, and McConnell, whose career is built on them.
And that tension has spilled over into outright attacks on McConnell by Trump in the middle of this month – both public and private.
The first of those came on August 9, when Trump tweeted: ‘Senator Mitch McConnell said I had “excessive expectations,” but I don’t think so. After 7 years of hearing Repeal & Replace, why not done?’
The following day, he tweeted: ‘Can you believe that Mitch McConnell, who has screamed Repeal & Replace for 7 years, couldn’t get it done. Must Repeal & Replace ObamaCare!’
That initial tweet was accompanied by the heated phonecall between Trump and McConnell, sources said.
McConnell has also privately questioned Trump’s understanding of politics and his interest in actually learning how to govern, sources said
Such behavior is likely to lead to further problems down the line, as Senate Republicans rankle against the president’s tirades, and his targeting of their allies.
‘When it comes to the Senate, there’s an Article 5 understanding: An attack against one is an attack against all,’ South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham said.
There are also concerns that Trump is blundering in the dark, politically.
During Trump’s visit to a Boy Scout jamboree in West Virginia last month, the president’s aides told state Senator Shelley Moore Capito that she must vote for the Obamacare repeal, sources briefed on the conversation said.
If she agreed to do so, he said, she would be allowed to ride on Air Force One to the event.
She declined, saying she couldn’t promise a vote on a bill she hadn’t read.
US Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said Trump told her she would be allowed to fly on Air Force One with him if she voted for Obamacare repeal. She declined
And Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was told that she would lose funding for the state if she didn’t vote for the act – which left her feeling like she had no choice but to vote against it, she said.
Whether actions like these will spill into outright war between Trump and McConnell remains to be seen.
But Billy Piper, former chief of staff for the Senate leader, says that continuing to attack his own party would be a disaster for Trump.
‘The quickest way for him to get impeached is for Trump to knock off Jeff Flake and Dean Heller and be faced with a Democrat-led Senate,’ he said.
Billy Piper, one of McConnell’s aides, has warned that trying to depose critics like Flake and Sen.Dean Heller (right) would likely lead to Trump’s impeachment