After former president Donald Trump was acquitted by the Senate for a second time earlier this month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) excoriated him for his role in inciting a violent mob of supporters to storm the Capitol, saying there was no question Trump was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.”
The divide between the two deepened days later when Trump described McConnell in a lengthy diatribe as a “political hack” who lacked “political insight, wisdom, skill, and personality.”
Yet in an interview with Fox News’s Bret Baier on Thursday, McConnell signaled that he would not let the growing rift between him and the former president get in the way of the Republicans reclaiming the White House. Asked by Baier whether the Senate minority leader would support Trump if he won the party’s presidential nomination in 2024, McConnell offered a succinct reply: “Absolutely.”
After Mitch McConnell said a number of senators are likely to run in 2024, @BretBaier asked what he would do if Trump was the nominee: "If the President was the party's nominee [in 2024], would you support him?"— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) February 25, 2021
McConnell replied w/this: "The nominee of the party? Absolutely." pic.twitter.com/FZb9kXSiiZ
McConnell’s interview is his latest attempt to show unity in the party, which since the election has confronted a growing divide between Trump-loyal Republicans and the more traditional party members.
McConnell, who ultimately did not vote to convict in the January impeachment trial, was a crucial ally to Trump during his presidency, helping him push through massive tax cuts, three Supreme Court justices and an ambitious number of judicial nominations that will alter federal courts for decades.
But the two had not spoken since McConnell on Dec. 15 congratulated Joe Biden on his victory. People close to McConnell told The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis and Josh Dawsey earlier this month that the minority leader had no plans to ever speak to Trump again.
The day after the insurrection, McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, who served as Trump’s transportation secretary since the beginning of his term, announced her resignation.
At the end of the week-long impeachment trial last month, McConnell, who had pressed pause on holding a trial before Trump left office, drilled down on the former president’s role in inciting the Capitol riot. Arguing that Trump was “still liable for everything he did while he was in office,” McConnell noted that Trump “watched television happily as the chaos unfolded” and accused him of “disgraceful dereliction of duty.”
McConnell went further with his critiques in a Feb. 15 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. Before explaining why he acquitted the former president, McConnell called Trump’s actions “unconscionable” and said that he “bears moral responsibility” for the riot.
Trump retaliated the next day, broadcasting his outrage and derision for McConnell in a statement released by the Save America PAC.
“Mitch is a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack, and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again,” he said in the statement. “He will never do what needs to be done, or what is right for our Country.”
Trump went on to spew false and biting personal attacks at McConnell and Chao, accusing the Republican leader of being soft on China because of “his family’s substantial Chinese business holdings.” McConnell’s personal financial disclosures show no connections to Chinese businesses.
In his interview with Fox News on Thursday, McConnell refrained from offering negative comments about the former president. When Baier asked what McConnell thought about Trump speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando this weekend, the GOP leader said he had no opinion on Trump’s attendance or his speech.
Instead, McConnell attempted to put to bed claims of a civil war within the GOP.
“Having chosen the progressive route, [Biden] certainly made it a lot easier for me to unify my members in the opposition,” McConnell said. “The Republican Party is actually in very good shape.”
But when Baier pressed McConnell on the prospects of Trump running for president again, the GOP leader posited that Trump wouldn’t be the only one in the race.
“There’s a lot to happen between now and ’24,” McConnell said. “I’ve got at least four members, I think, that are planning on running for president, plus governors and others. There is no incumbent. Should be a wide-open race and fun for you all to cover.”
Colby Itkowitz contributed to this report.