Former president Donald Trump is facing blowback for an inflammatory online message attacking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that many viewed as a threat.
The post marked a further escalation in an increasingly strained relationship between the two Republican leaders. Trump has repeatedly impugned McConnell’s negotiating positions and called on GOP senators to replace him as their leader. They often had a tense working relationship during Trump’s presidency and fell out in the aftermath of the 2020 election, when Trump refused to concede and tried to overturn the results, and the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
McConnell’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday.
A Trump spokesman said it was “absurd” to interpret the post as a threat or call for violence, suggesting the reference to a death wish was “political” rather than literal.
“Mitch McConnell is killing the Republican Party through weakness and cowardice,” spokesman Taylor Budowich wrote in a statement. “He obviously has a political death wish for himself and Republican Party, but President Trump and the America First champions in Congress will save the Republican Party and our nation.”
Incendiary statements from Trump have repeatedly inspired his supporters to turn to violence. Jan. 6 rioters, in the moment and in court proceedings, have said they believed they were acting on Trump’s wishes. Lawmakers of both parties have faced increasing threats after crossing Trump.
More recently, following Trump’s attacks on the FBI in response to a search of his Mar-a-Lago resort, a gunman tried to breach the bureau’s Cincinnati office while posting about it on Truth Social. He was later killed by police.
“He knows exactly what he’s doing, and his recklessness knows no bounds,” prominent Republican lawyer Robert Kelner wrote on Twitter, responding to Trump’s latest post about McConnell. “Despicable.”
Chao resigned from Trump’s Cabinet shortly after the Jan. 6 attack, saying the assault “deeply troubled me in a way I simply cannot set aside.” McConnell, in a speech after the following month’s impeachment trial, condemned Trump as “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day,” although he did not vote to convict.
In this year’s primaries, McConnell tried unsuccessfully to recruit moderate Republican governors such as Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, Larry Hogan of Maryland and Doug Ducey of Arizona to run for the Senate. McConnell’s allies intervened in some races to oppose pro-Trump candidates, such as Eric Greitens in Missouri and Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, but did not weigh in against Trump-endorsed candidates such as Blake Masters in Arizona and Herschel Walker in Georgia. McConnell has publicly lamented that some of the party’s nominees are making it harder to win back control of the chamber, although he has lately expressed more confidence in the party’s chances.
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