McConnell rejoining GOP rank and file | WORLD
Sound journalism, grounded in facts and Biblical truth | Donate

McConnell rejoining GOP rank and file

The Senate minority leader steps back from leadership amid criticism

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Associated Press/Photo by Mark Schiefelbein, File

McConnell rejoining GOP rank and file

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday became the latest Republican to bow out of leadership as the party reorients itself to having former President Donald Trump in command again.

McConnell took to the Senate floor and announced plans to step down as minority leader in November, though he plans to remain in the Senate until his term ends in 2027. His departure from the role marks a significant change to the longstanding Republican leadership in Congress and sets up a contest to replace him.

“As some of you may know this has been a particularly difficult time for my family,” McConnell said, referencing the recent death of his sister-in-law. “There’s a certain introspection that accompanies the grieving process. I turned 82 last week; the end of my contributions are closer than I prefer … but one of life’s most underappreciated talents is to know when it’s time to move on to life’s next chapter.”

Kentucky voters first elected McConnell to the Senate in 1984, and he assumed the role of GOP leader in 2007. He is the longest-serving party leader in Senate history. His legislative track record includes staving off former President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, pushing back against Obama’s landmark Affordable Care Act, and appointing over 230 judges to the bench during the Trump administration—including three Supreme Court justices who would eventually help overturn Roe v. Wade.

Through that time, McConnell garnered a reputation as a shrewd strategist, overcoming divisions through detail-oriented control of his own party.

“He’s been someone focused on power,” said Matthew Green, professor of politics at the Catholic University of America. “McConnell has always been very good at holding his cards close to his chest, listening to what other members want, and adjusting accordingly. He’s also been very good at knowing when there’s dissent, knowing how to contain it, how to redirect it.”

But McConnell struggled to contain and redirect opposition from Trump. Although they worked together on federal judiciary reforms and tax cuts during Trump’s presidency, McConnell frequently was at odds with the president’s direction behind the scenes, going so far as to ignore judicial appointments with which he disagreed. In turn, the president and his supporters frequently blamed McConnell for legislative failures such as the stalled attempt to overturn the Affordable Care Act in 2017.

“Can you believe that Mitch McConnell couldn’t get it done?” Trump posted after the vote. “Mitch, get back to work.”

Jim Curry, director of graduate studies in the University of Utah political science department, said an irreparable rift came after Jan. 6, 2021.

“It only seemed towards the very back end of the Trump term that McConnell became much more overtly negative about Trump,” Currey said. “McConnell at the end of the day is something of an institutionalist. As long as this person was the president, he wasn’t going to go out of his way to attack him.”

But in the wake of the U.S. Capitol riot, McConnell’s criticisms weren’t so veiled, even going so far as to call Trump’s actions a “disgraceful dereliction of duty.”

“Once he had lost, you saw McConnell say, ‘Let’s move on,’” Curry said. “Following Trump down the rabbit hole over what happened in the 2020 election and everything thereafter, to McConnell, he probably saw it as bad politics.”

Curry said McConnell may have miscalculated Trump’s political strength and how Trump-centric the GOP would continue to be into 2024. He has won every GOP contest so far in this year’s primary season and is the party’s likely presidential nominee. The heads of the Republican National Committee announced their resignations this week, with Trump campaign operative Michael Whatley and Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump slated to take their places as chair and co-chair.

Amid recent debates about Ukraine funding and a compromise border deal, McConnell’s views have clashed with Trump’s calls for more conservative stances such as a retreat from globalism and demands for unyielding security at the border. Meanwhile, much of the rest of the party has followed Trump’s lead over McConnell’s.

“If you’re Mitch McConnell … and you care more about the fact that Russia invaded Ukraine and not the fact that your own citizens are getting murdered by fentanyl brought in by cartels, you need to look in the mirror and accept that your job has been a failure,” Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, said to loud applause on Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Earlier this month, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called McConnell disconnected with his party’s priorities on the Ukraine. A spokesperson from inside Cruz’s office sent WORLD a statement on his minority leader’s retirement: “Mitch has had a long and honorable tenure as the Republican leader. I am grateful for his service. He made the decision that it was time to step down as leader and I certainly respect his judgment in that regard. … He has many legacies but none is more consequential than confirming hundreds principled constitutionalists to the federal judiciary.”

Republican Sens. John Thune of South Dakota, John Barrasso of Wyoming, and John Cornyn of Texas—often referred to as “the three Johns”—have top seniority and leadership positions behind McConnell. All three are thought to have interests in filling McConnell’s shoes.

On the Senate floor on Wednesday, McConnell acknowledged the shifting landscape of the GOP.

“Believe me, I know the politics within my party at this particular moment in time. I have many faults. Misunderstanding politics is not one of them,” McConnell said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “That said, I believe more strongly than ever that America’s global leadership is essential to preserving the shining city on a hill that Ronald Reagan discussed. For as long as I am drawing breath on this earth I will defend American exceptionalism.”

Leo Briceno

Leo is a WORLD politics reporter based in Washington, D.C. He’s a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and has a degree in political journalism from Patrick Henry College.


This keeps me from having to slog through digital miles of other news sites. —Nick

Sign up to receive The Stew, WORLD’s free weekly email newsletter on politics and government.

Please wait while we load the latest comments...