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Opinion Trump’s latest attack on McConnell sets a new standard of despicable

Former president Donald Trump during a rally in Wilmington, N.C., on Sept. 23. (Chris Seward/AP)

When you are dealing with someone for whom there is no bottom, it’s not exactly surprising to see him hit a new low. Nonetheless, Donald Trump’s latest social media broadside against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stands out for its odious recklessness.

On Friday, the former president posted on his Truth Social platform that McConnell has a “DEATH WISH” for having supported legislation to keep the government operating through mid-December — language that could easily be read by his highly combustible supporters as inviting violence against the GOP leader who seems to have taken up residence under Trump’s gossamer-thin skin.

Indeed, Trump portrayed the spending legislation, which passed the Senate 72-25, as a personal affront, saying McConnell cut the deal to pass it “because he hates Donald J. Trump, and he knows I am strongly opposed to” its provisions.

Trump then went for a racial smear against McConnell’s Asian American power spouse, Elaine Chao, who served as transportation secretary in his own administration, referring to her as “his China loving wife, Coco Chow!”

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Outrageousness, of course, is Trump’s political brand, and ignoring his rants is usually the best thing to do. His spokesman insisted that his reference to a death wish referred to a political one, rather than literal one.

But to dismiss all of this as just Trump being Trump is to ignore what is really going on here. The Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by his crazed followers, after a rally in which the then-president urged them to “fight like hell” to overturn the 2020 election result, should have put to rest any doubts that his words can summon violence. (Trump’s beef with Chao is fueled by the fact that she resigned from his Cabinet the next day.)

Knowing all of this, you have to wonder: Where are McConnell’s Republican colleagues in the Senate? Why do they remain silent when Trump does something like this? Is this sort of behavior by their party’s de facto leader acceptable to them, particularly coming fewer than 40 days before an election in which they are trying to pick up the single additional seat that would give them control of the chamber? Their timidity has fostered the free-fire environment in which Trump operates.

Also worth raising is the question of whether the stopgap spending bill was actually what triggered Trump’s eruption. It is probably no coincidence that Trump’s attack came just three days after McConnell threw his weight behind a badly needed piece of bipartisan legislation that would reform the antiquated Electoral Count Act of 1887.

That old law lays out the process for tallying and certifying electoral votes in presidential elections; its language, however, contains ambiguities, which is what Trump and his forces were trying to exploit on Jan. 6 — the day Congress met to certify the tally of the 2020 election. Among other things, Trump pressured Vice President Mike Pence, whose role in the exercise was supposed to be ceremonial, to throw out valid votes; Pence, properly, refused.

McConnell’s honorable decision to support reforming the Electoral Count Act, despite the fact that opposing it has become a litmus test of support for Trump, has greatly increased its chances of passing, because it now appears likely to easily muster more than the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster.

Congress’s process for counting their presidential electors’ votes was written 135 years ago. The chaos that came to a head on January 6th of last year certainly underscored the need for an update,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “The Electoral Count Act ultimately produced the right conclusion … but it’s clear the country needs a more predictable path.”

The right conclusion, in this case, was that Joe Biden was legitimately elected president of the United States. But by refusing to accept Trump’s lies to the contrary, McConnell has guaranteed himself a continued place in Trump’s crosshairs.

No doubt Trump will escalate his dangerous and vile attacks on McConnell, because that is simply who he is. But let’s be clear that there is plenty of fault to go around. The Republican Party’s refusal to denounce him for it makes them complicit.