The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘Exhilarated’ McConnell said Jan. 6 ‘discredited’ Trump, book says

The comments are reported in a new book showing Republican leaders initially placed some blame for the Capitol attack on Trump — only for many of them to change their tune later on

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) walks from the Senate floor to his office on Jan. 6, 2021. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
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Hours after a mob ransacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in a bid to block the certification of the 2020 presidential election, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell described himself as “exhilarated” about the potential damage to President Donald Trump.

“I feel exhilarated by the fact that this fellow finally, totally discredited himself,” McConnell told Jonathan Martin, one of the authors of a new book called “This Will Not Pass,” when asked about his feelings on the violence and the rioters.

Trump, the Kentucky Republican said, “was pretty thoroughly discredited by this.”

“He put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger,” he said, standing in a doorway of the Capitol after midnight. “Couldn’t have happened at a better time.”

“What do you hear about the Twenty-Fifth Amendment?” he asked Martin, eager for intelligence about whether the Cabinet and vice president might remove Trump from office, according to the book. Then McConnell said, according to the book, that he had spoken to Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) about issuing a joint statement telling Trump to stay away from the inauguration. A McConnell spokesman declined to comment on the book.

The scene from early on the morning of Jan. 7, 2021, provides another vivid account of how Republican leaders reacted in the immediate wake of Jan. 6, clearly understanding the ramifications of the day and placing blame on Trump — only for much of the party to change its tune later on.

The 437-page book by Martin and fellow New York Times reporter Alexander Burns offers a behind-the-scenes account of Republican and Democratic politics during the 2020 election, the presidential transition, and the early period of President Biden’s time in office. Parts of the book were reviewed by The Washington Post ahead of its publication, which is scheduled for next Tuesday.

The portions of the book reviewed by The Post detail how leading Washington Republicans loathed or were skeptical of Trump behind the scenes — yet capitulated repeatedly to his demands, fearful of his powerful and loyal base and his ability to damage them politically. The book also illustrates how there were miscalculations by other Republicans about Trump and his ability to hold a grip on the party after the Jan. 6 deadly riot from a pro-Trump mob — and a misguided sense that the proverbial political fever would break.

The book also delves into some of the darker episodes of Trump’s presidency — and how he used his extraordinary powers against Democratic and Republican opponents, and what happened to many of them after he unleashed his fervent supporters.

Much of the book focuses on a cadre of powerful Washington Republicans, including McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), an erstwhile Trump ally who often vacillated in private. Throughout the book, countless Republicans bad-mouth Trump in private, highlighting his erraticism and devious behavior, only to heap praise on him publicly.

That night, with the attack seared in his mind, McConnell took a strident tone against Trump and his desire to slash his influence going forward, according to the book. Citing the 2014 midterm elections, where McConnell attacked some of the fringe far-right candidates, he said he would take Trump and his ilk down in the 2022 midterms.

McConnell tells his staff that Trump is a “despicable person” and says he will take him on politically.

“We crushed the sons of b----es,” he said to Martin, according to the book, “and that’s what we’re going to do in the primary in ’22.”

McConnell has dialed back his criticisms of Trump since and has said he would even support Trump if he was the Republican nominee in 2024 — and he did not vote to convict the former president, arguing it was a waste of time because he had already left office.

In a recent interview, Trump told The Post that McConnell was the most unpopular politician in the country and that he’d prefer even Mitt Romney (R-Utah) as the leader of the Senate over McConnell.

“I’ll take anyone over McConnell,” Trump said. But McConnell retains support among Republican senators, and, should the party take back the chamber, even many Trump advisers believe it would be difficult for the former president to unseat him. He is also likely to face less blowback in the Senate because Trump is more disliked among Senate Republicans than House Republicans.

Trump himself remains the most potent force in the Republican Party by all accounts, even as his influence has dwindled, according to public and private polls. Last week, when the authors of “This Will Not Pass” reported that McCarthy privately told others Trump should resign after Jan. 6, he faced backlash within the GOP and scrambled to contain the fallout with Trump. McCarthy initially lied about making the comments before the authors published a tape recording of him.

Dan Balz: Kevin McCarthy and the intoxication of power

McConnell, Trump said, was the reason he was not “at the White House having this conversation,” the authors write, noting Trump referred to him as a “real beauty.” After the 2020 election, in his eyes, McConnell had failed to fight. “Not content merely to insult McConnell as a legislative leader and political tactician, Trump attacked the Kentucky senator’s family in racist language, smearing a woman who had served in his own Cabinet for all but the two final weeks of his presidency,” the authors write.

The book details behind-the-scenes efforts to keep Trump from blocking a peaceful transition of power, even from some of his own advisers.

Martin and Burns report that Pelosi reached out to former Republican president George W. Bush through an emissary, hoping Bush would quickly acknowledge Biden as the winner — a decision Bush had already decided to make on his own. A Pelosi spokesman declined to comment on the anecdote.

In another section of the book, Chris Liddell, the deputy chief of staff in charge of the presidential transition, carefully plots a transition while saying that the former president will never concede he lost and that they may be in for a “nightmare scenario.”

In public, according to the book, Northern Ireland envoy Mick Mulvaney told Josh Bolten, the former White House chief of staff to Bush and now the Business Roundtable CEO, that Trump may not go peacefully — even as he later wrote a Wall Street Journal editorial arguing that he would. “If Trump loses, I’m not sure he’ll leave office willingly,” the book quotes Mulvaney saying.

The book describes a number of outside and formal advisers trying to persuade Trump to drop his false claims of election fraud — but the president flatly refuses to concede the election or that his lawyers were making dubious points. “Chris, I’m never going to concede,” Trump told former GOP New Jersey governor Chris Christie, according to the book.

The authors use Graham as a central character in the book. After the election, “Graham was urging his Republican colleagues to give the president space to come to terms with the election results. Trump would have a few weeks to rage and rail, but the votes would all be counted soon enough and the outcome would be incontestable,” the authors write.

Graham describes talking to Trump on the day the election was called — and finding the former president more interested in an upcoming round with a professional golfer.

The book places Graham in Senate lunches, urging other Republicans to be cooperative with Trump and even briefing them on his preferred nicknames for them.

It also describes Graham hiding in the Capitol as the rioters descend, calling the White House counsel to threaten Trump’s removal from office. And it shows Graham back at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club golfing with him again.

While interviewing the former president, Martin and Burns write that Graham called him twice — and that Trump answered the second time and put him on speakerphone.

“Tell them about the Trump endorsements,” he instructed the senator, according to the book.

“Graham, scarcely three months after renouncing his allegiance to Trump on the Senate floor, hopped to it. ‘I’ve never seen it quite like this,’ Graham said, elaborating: ‘President Trump’s endorsement is the most consequential endorsement of any politician I’ve seen in my 20-something years.’”

“ ‘Most importantly, would you tell them one thing,’ he nudged Graham. ‘Can Trump play golf?’ ” the authors write.

“If you don’t believe it, go play with him,” the book quotes Graham as responding.

Out of Trump’s earshot, in an interview later that day, Graham joked about the man he was trying almost daily to placate in some form or another. Trump, he said, was always a good conversationalist when it came to his favorite topic: “As long as it’s about him, it’s a good thing,” Graham said.