Trump vs. McConnell: Top Republicans Fight Over Future of GOP

The feud between former President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, continues to simmer as the midterm elections approach later this year.

Trump has repeatedly attacked McConnell over the past year, with the criticism appearing to escalate in recent months. The former president has dubbed the top Senate Republican an "Old Crow," while McConnell has condemned Trump for helping to incite the violence of January 6, 2021.

As the 2022 midterm election draws closer, McConnell is working to support Republican candidates who do not necessarily enjoy the support of the former president, The New York Times reported on Sunday. The Senate minority leader has reportedly suggested many Trump-backed candidates are "goofballs" while pushing for anti-Trump conservatives to run for Congress.

McConnell has "made it very clear that you've been there for Alaska, you've been there for the team and I'm going to be there for you," said GOP Senator Lisa Murkowski, who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment and is facing a Republican primary challenger backed by the former president, to The Times.

Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump
Tension between former President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is escalating ahead of the midterm elections later this year. Above, Trump speaks to the press before a meeting with Republican Congressional leaders at the White House in Washington, D.C. on September 5, 2018. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

With most political analysts widely expecting Republicans to retake control of the House and possibly the Senate in the November election, the battle between McConnell and Trump could have major implications not just for the future of the GOP, but for the country as a whole. While Trump and his faction of the GOP have embraced the so-called "Big Lie" that the 2020 election was "stolen" in favor of President Joe Biden, McConnell and a number of others have rejected this conspiracy theory.

"A lot of Republicans, even if they don't disagree with Trump themselves, see him as threatening their coalition and perhaps threatening democratic institutions. Specifically, Trump's support for the lie that the 2020 election was stolen is very awkward for any Republicans who would like to run on something else," Hans Noel, an associate professor at Georgetown University who researches political coalitions and political parties, told Newsweek on Sunday.

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, has aligned himself closely with Trump—choosing a different path from McConnell. "Kevin is really a cheerleader," Senator Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican, told The Hill last week. "Mitch is smart, cunning and calculating."

Following the attack against the U.S. Capitol, McCarthy initially blamed Trump for the riot. However, he then traveled down to visit the former president at his home at Mar-a-Lago to patch up their relationship. The top House Republican aims to become House Speaker following the 2022 midterms—which requires him to maintain the support of pro-Trump representatives as well as Trump critics within Congress.

"If, as expected, Republicans capture control of the House and Senate, then McConnell may be in a stronger position. But pro-Trump Republicans in the House may have more influence, too," Noel told Newsweek. "Of course, if Republicans win big in the House, it will be in part from more moderate districts, which means there could be more non-Trumpian Republicans to act as a balance. But the fight will move to the House, I think."

Currently, Republicans can't even agree on what happened on January 6, 2021 or on whether Biden is the legitimately-elected president. The Republican National Committee on February 4 formally censured Representatives Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Liz Cheney of Wyoming for their criticism of the former president and their involvement with the House select committee investigating the pro-Trump attack against the federal legislative branch of government.

McConnell criticized that decision, saying the RNC should not be "singling out members of our party who may have different views of the majority." Cheney is facing off against a Trump-endorsed challenger in a GOP primary. Kinzinger decided to forego seeking another House term.

"We saw it happen [on January 6]. It was a violent insurrection for the purpose of trying to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after a legitimately certified election, from one administration to the next. That's what it was," McConnell told reporters.

Trump shot back with a statement criticizing McConnell. "For the Old Crow Mitch McConnell to say that the RNC should not censure walking Democrat sound bites, Liz Cheney and Cryin' Adam Kinzinger, is so against what Republicans are about," he said.

McConnell has enlisted the support of some prominent anti-Trump GOP senators in his efforts to shape the future Senate. The Times reported that Republican Senators Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine were previously dispatched by the Senate minority leader to lobby anti-Trump Republican Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland to launch a Senate bid.

"No one should be afraid of President Trump, period," Collins, who voted to convict Trump following his 2021 impeachment trial, told The Times.

Although Hogan does not plan to seek a Senate seat, he has repeatedly criticized Trump and the faction of the Republican Party that readily falls in line behind the former president.

"There's a circular firing squad where we attack Republicans. The Republican Party that I want to get back to is the one that believes in freedom and truth, and not one that attacks people that don't swear 100 percent fealty to the dear leader," the GOP governor told CNN on Sunday.

Whether McConnell's or Trump's faction of the Republican Party ultimately win the day remains to be seen. However, even if Trump were to walk away from the political arena, the way he's transformed the GOP appears unlikely to follow suit.

"In many ways, the tensions are something that cannot be put back in the bottle," Noel told Newsweek. "If Trump were to disappear from politics tomorrow, the elements of the party he's empowered are not going away."