We had a feeling this was going to be awkward. For the past few weeks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has struggled to say anything nice about Donald Trump.
He -- and other Republican leaders -- seemed to struggle when he took the stage an hour or so after Republicans nominated Trump as their presidential candidate.
McConnell spent a vast majority of his more than 1,000 words focused on the other candidate still in the race, Hillary Clinton. He gave a searing speech attack her character -- "I'm here to tell you Hillary Clinton will say anything, do anything, and be anything to get elected president" -- but didn't mention the candidate he was there to speak for until halfway through the speech.
Here's where McConnell finally talks about Trump. It is the only passage in the entire speech that touches on Republicans' now-official presidential nominee:
We put an Obamacare repeal bill on the President’s desk. He vetoed it. Trump would sign it. We passed a bill to finally build the Keystone Pipeline. He vetoed it. Trump would sign it. We passed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. Obama vetoed it. Trump would sign it. And on that sad day when we lost the great Antonin Scalia, I made another pledge that Barack Obama would not fill this seat. That honor will go to Donald Trump. With Donald Trump in the White House, Senate Republicans will build on the work we’ve done and pass more bills into law than any Senate in years.
McConnell's argument here has become a familiar one: Trump is a Republican, so let's vote for him. It's an extension of what skeptical-yet-out-of-options Republicans have been saying since Trump clinched the nomination in May: He's not what we wanted, but he's better than Hillary Clinton.
We're picking on McConnell here, but his speech was par for the course for Republican leaders who spoke Tuesday. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) mentioned Trump twice and Clinton three times. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called Trump a longtime friend at the top of his remarks -- but barely mentioned him, spending almost his entire speech trying to indict Clinton.
Not exactly awe-inspiring, right? Republican leaders' conspicuous avoidance of Trump was in stark contrast to the animation and enthusiasm of some of the delegates (at least, those who were actually in the arena) when more than 1,237 of them submitted their votes, state by state, for Trump earlier in the evening.
Besides being somewhat awkward, spending all of your time bashing Clinton instead of praising Trump presents a potential political problem: A general rule in politics -- at least, in most political years -- is that if you're going to knock down your opponent, you need to show why your team can do a better job. Neither McConnell nor Ryan nor Christie did that Tuesday, or even attempted it. McConnell and Christie in particular attempted to destroy Clinton's character while making absolutely zero mentions of Trump's.
As I mused earlier Tuesday, it's clear to see why McConnell steered clear of praising Trump. His doubts about Trump are growing, not abating, with each passing day.
In late June, we counted four times in the previous three weeks (!) McConnell threw shade at Trump, questioning whether he's "credible," "serious" and organized enough (read: raising enough money) to make a real run at the White House. Par for the course is what McConnell told Geoff Bennett of Time Warner Cable News in a June 28 interview: