How Trump continues to be a major thorn in Mitch McConnell’s side
President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (White House photo by Shealah Craighead.)

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — unlike outright Never Trumpers such as attorney George Conway, former GOP strategist Rick Wilson and Washington Post columnists George Will and Max Boot — doesn't go out of his way to criticize former President Donald Trump. Whatever he may or may not be saying behind closed doors, the Kentucky Republican generally keeps his thoughts about Trump to himself. But there is obviously no love lost between Trump and McConnell, and an article by journalist Eric Lutz for Vanity Fair Lutz describes some ways in which Trump continues to be a major thorn in McConnell's side.

During an October 7 appearance on Fox News, Trump criticized McConnell's handling of the United States' debt ceiling and told Sean Hannity, "The Republican Senate needs new leaders. Mitch is not the guy. Not the right guy. He's not doing the job."

Lutz stresses that Trump's criticism of McConnell isn't really policy-related but rather, reflects the fact that Trump holds a grudge against him for criticizing him after the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol Building.

"Trump's frustration with McConnell almost certainly has less to do with the debt ceiling and more to do with the criticism he faced from the senator after the January 6 insurrection," Lutz explains. "McConnell didn't go to bat for him in his second impeachment trial earlier this year and rebuked him in a floor speech, and Trump has been trying to oust him ever since."

One thing Trump won't be able to do in 2022 or 2024 is threaten McConnell with a GOP primary challenge. McConnell was reelected to the U.S. Senate in 2020, defeating Democratic opponent Amy McGrath in Kentucky — and he won't be up for reelection again until 2026. Trump, however, can run around telling his devotees that McConnell shouldn't be Senate minority leader.

"But McConnell is also a bizarre target for Trump's rage," Lutz observes. "He wound up voting against impeachment, and he did more to advance Trump's despicable agenda during his presidency than just about anybody. Trump, though, is a sucker for appearances, and the idea that McConnell would take even a performative stand against him or make a strategic concession to Democrats is too much for him to process."