WASHINGTON (AP) – Former President Donald Trump is escalating a political war within his own party that could undermine the Republican urge to fight President Joe Biden’s agenda and ultimately return to power.
A day after blowing up Senate top Republican Mitch McConnell as a “grumpy, sullen, and unsmiling political hacker,” Trump reiterated his baseless claim on Wednesday that he was the rightful winner of the November election in a row of interviews with conservative media, nearly a month of self-imposed silence.
Trump continued to attack McConnell, accusing the Senate GOP leader of failing to stand up for Republicans after McConnell beat Trump for inciting the Capitol uprising on Jan. 6, despite voting for it on his second impeachment trial acquittal of former president.
“The Republicans are soft. They only met their own, like Mitch, ”Trump complained to Newsmax. “If they spent the same amount of time beating (Senate Democratic leader Chuck) Schumer and (President Joe) Biden, Republicans would be a lot better off, I can tell you.”
Republican officials on several Biden-promoted battlefields, including Georgia and Arizona, said the vote was fair. Trump’s legal claims related to the vote have been denied by judges from across the political spectrum, including many appointed by the former president. McConnell himself described Trump’s claim as “nothing wrong”.
Leading GOP strategists have described the exploding feud between the former Republican President and the Senate’s most powerful Republican as a distraction at best, and a direct threat at worst to the party’s path to a House and Senate majority in the middle of next year.
“I don’t think he cares about winning,” said Steven Law, an ally of McConnell, who heads the most powerful Republican-leaning super-PAC in Washington, of Trump. “He just wants it to be about himself.”
Law noted that Trump has lost several states where Republicans will have to face Senate elections next year to break Democratic control of Congress, including Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Republicans also compete in Nevada and New Hampshire, where Trump was defeated, and North Carolina, where Trump barely won.
If Trump tries to “get himself the center of attention,” Law said, “it could actually cost Republicans seats in the general election.”
Such fights are not uncommon after a political party lost the White House, but in this case the feuding factions were ready to attack each other publicly. And there was broad consensus on Wednesday that the ugly conflict between the parties is likely to continue well into next year’s peak congressional season.
This time around, however, the stakes could be higher as key players – including Trump – have openly threatened the prospect of creating a new political party that would threaten the very existence of the Republican Party.
About 120 anti-Trump Republicans, including current and former public officials, met in secret earlier this month to ponder the future of the GOP. According to an internal poll conducted by one of the organizers of the meeting, former independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, several or 40% support the idea of starting a new party.
“There’s a lot of energy for something new,” said McMullin, encouraging Trump to enforce his threats to start a Patriot Party. “To be honest, I would welcome him to start a new party and bring along his most loyal supporters. I think that would be a wonderful thing for the party and the country. “
Trump’s future plans are still converging in West Palm Beach, Florida.
He was banned from Facebook and Twitter for inciting violence, but on Wednesday he broke his month-long silence and gave his first interviews since leaving the White House following the death of conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh.
On Newsmax, Trump said his team is still exploring its options to return to social media and “negotiate with a range of people” while still having the opportunity to build its own platform on the table.
“We look at a lot of different things, but I really wanted to be a bit quiet,” Trump said, avoiding repeated questions about whether he intends to run again in 2024.
“Too early to say,” he said, admitting that he had failed to be president.
Even so, Trump said he had no problem communicating when he wanted by making statements – and made it clear this week that he won’t be quietly retiring.
The former president threw McConnell a series of personal slurs in a fiery written statement Tuesday. Mainstream Republicans were perhaps most concerned about his threat to support primary challengers against Republican candidates who do not fully embrace his “Make America Great Again” philosophy.
Some feared Trump might encourage Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., To run for the Senate, despite the lack of evidence to support it. The fears stem from the GOP’s struggle a decade ago when a handful of Tea Party candidates emerged with baggage from their Senate primaries, preventing the GOP from recapturing the majority.
In Indiana, Richard Mourdock defeated six-year-old Senator Richard Lugar in the 2012 primary, but imploded after a debate in which he said that pregnancy due to rape is “something God intended.” In Missouri, Republican candidate Todd Akin lost after insisting on a local talk show that women’s bodies have options for avoiding pregnancy through “legitimate rape.”
And in Delaware, Tea Party favorite Christine O’Donnell beat a longtime GOP congressman before losing to a landslide in the 2010 general election after reports of personal financial difficulties, questionable use of campaign funds, and allegations that she had ” engaged in witchcraft ”.
Now that Trump has enlivened a similar populist movement, Republicans must recruit candidates who can navigate a pro-Trump primary and remain attractive nationwide without alienating the establishment-minded donors. It’s not an easy task.
The Senate Republican campaign arm, led by Florida Senator Rick Scott, will not go into open primaries. But McConnell’s advisors haven’t ruled out the possibility – even if it draws Trump’s wrath.
“You can’t let madness go unchecked or it will eat you alive,” said Josh Holmes, a senior political adviser to McConnell.
“He just wants to win,” he said of McConnell. “If it has to act as a heat shield, so be it.”
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Trump broke his month-long media blackout, calling Fox News, Newsmax and OANN, and reiterating what the Democrats called his “big lie”: his insistence that he win the 2020 election despite receiving millions of votes lost to Biden.
Dozens of judges, local election officials, and even his own administration said there was no evidence of mass fraud, but that didn’t stop Trump from saying so after the January 6 riot in the Capitol that killed five people.
“Well, Rush thought we won. And so do I. I think we won a lot, “Trump told Fox.
He didn’t call McConnell by name, but he did acknowledge critics within his own party: “We don’t have the same support at certain levels of the Republican system.”
Meanwhile, Law tried to downplay Trump’s influence over the Republican Party. He noted that Trump’s approval rating among Republican voters, at almost 80%, is similar to that of former President George W. Bush after the Iraq war and 2007 financial crisis.
The focus on the next election cannot be Trump, he said.
“We will do everything we can to focus on Joe Biden and the Pelosi-Schumer Congress. We can win with that, ”said Law. “The challenge is whether or not Trump can somehow find a way to take center stage next fall.”
People reported from New York.