Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has always been low key with any criticism of Donald Trump, ducking questions or issuing prepared statements about the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
But in the past week, McConnell, in his typically understated way, has tried to gently shove the businessman forward into running a more traditional campaign. On Tuesday, McConnell gave his sharpest critique yet in an interview with Time Warner cable news, suggesting that recent speeches delivered with a teleprompter were a step in the right direction but more needs to be done.
“Trump clearly needs to change, in my opinion, to win the general election,” McConnell said in the interview, part of the long book tour for his memoir, “The Long Game.”
“My hope is that he is beginning to pivot and become what I would call a more serious and credible candidate for the highest office in the land,” the majority leader said. When pressed about whether Trump was now “credible” as a presidential candidate, he said: “He’s getting closer.”
McConnell’s subtle, but increasingly sharp, critique comes as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has mostly steered clear of discussing his party’s standard bearer, after having gone through a very public decision making process last month before offering his support to Trump.
It made Ryan the lightning rod inside the Republican party over whether to support Trump or to work to find an independent conservative to run instead.
Meanwhile, McConnell’s recent comments provide a window into how senior Republicans view Trump’s candidacy, not necessarily on the overall thrust of his controversial policies but more about how he is assembling an operation that can handle the basic blocking an tackling of a presidential campaign, and whether a poorly run operation would wipe out their down-ballot candidates for the House and Senate.
On his Sunday appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” host George Stephanopolous pointed to the page in McConnell’s book where he wrote “cash on hand” are the three most important words in politics and noted Trump’s campaign had little more than $1 million at the start of this month.
“There’s a lot of work to be done to turn the campaign in a different direction,” McConnell said. “And one of the obvious flaws at the moment is cash on hand. He needs to catch up and catch up fast.”
Asked if Trump were qualified to be president, McConnell demurred. “The American people will be able to make that decision in the fall,” he said.
In the Time Warner interview, the very disciplined McConnell even gave insight into the discussions he is having with Trump, including explicit directions about how to give a speech.
“You’re a great entertainer. You turn on audiences,” McConnell said he told Trump. “You’re good before a crowd. You have a lot of Twitter followers. That worked fine for you in the primaries. But now that you are in the general, people are looking for a level of seriousness that is typically conveyed by having a prepared text and Teleprompter and staying on message.”