Mitch McConnell Plays Long Game on Donald Trump, Keeping His Focus on Republican Power

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has reiterated his focus on building the GOP's power while staying open to backing former President Donald Trump in 2024 should he win the Republican electoral nomination.

McConnell was asked on Fox News whether he would support Trump if he were to become the party's candidate for the next presidential nomination.

"The nominee of the party? Absolutely," McConnell replied, indicating his support for who the party picks—which polling has suggested may be, Trump should he want to run.

However, McConnell said there is "a lot to happen between now and '24."

In recent weeks, Trump and McConnell have clashed—with the minority leader describing the former president as "practically and morally responsible" for provoking the events of January 6, despite having voted to acquit him at his impeachment trial.

After this, Trump criticized McConnell's leadership capabilities and branded him a "dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack."

Since that attack from Trump, however, McConnell has refrained from returning fire and instead insisted his focus is on 2022.

Asked about that statement and Trump supporters who are "concerned about the future of the GOP," McConnell told Fox News: "What I would say to everybody who's inclined to support our right-of-center Republican Party: let's focus on winning the House and the Senate in '22. That will set up the next nominee for president, whoever that may be, the best chance to be victorious."

The Democrats have a razor-thin majority in the Senate, narrowly secured at the last general election.

McConnell said the Republican Party is in "very good shape" and will "be competitive again in '22," when asked about Trump's critical statement targeting him.

As well as looking to achieve more power by boosting numbers in Congress down the line, McConnell has also been focused on trying to solidify what influence he and the Republicans can still sway in the Senate after losing the majority.

Looking to 2022, he has previously spoken of his desire to focus not on who supports Trump or does not when selecting candidates, but instead on "electability."

"My goal is, in every way possible, to have nominees representing the Republican Party who can win in November," McConnell told Politico earlier this month. "Some of them may be people the former president likes. Some of them may not be. The only thing I care about is electability.

"I'm not predicting the president would support people who couldn't win. But I do think electability—not who supports who—is the critical point."

Trump has said he will support Republican candidates in 2022, discussing this in a meeting with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in January.

However, he has suggested he could back primary challengers who are more in-line with his outlook.

"Where necessary and appropriate, I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First," he said in his statement on McConnell.

"We want brilliant, strong, thoughtful, and compassionate leadership."

Some Trump-aligned candidates have already begun to lineup primary challenges to sitting lawmakers who have broken rank with Trump.

McConnell himself is free from such threats until 2026, having won another six-year Senate term in November.

On running again himself, Trump has left the door open to it but not confirmed if he will.

Speaking to Newsmax last week, Trump was asked about a future run. He said: "I won't say yet, but we have tremendous support."

Newsweek has contacted McConnell for further comment.

mitch mcconnell leaves his office
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) leaves his office and walks to the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol on February 8, 2021 in Washington, D.C. He has spoken about being focused on the 2022 midterms. Drew Angerer/Getty Images