In the weeks following the Jan. 6, 2021 right-wing insurrection at the Capitol — which many believe was directly incited by the former president Donald Trump despite the February 2021 Senate vote to acquit him at his impeachment trial — and Trump’s subsequent permanent ban from Twitter and other social media sites, the ex-president has since taken up a new form of expressing what he once did through 280 character tweets: writing letters.
Trump’s switch to a more traditional mode of communication, which Slate pointed out, albeit somewhat jokingly, might have been borne out of the realization that “if done a certain way, is really just a collection of tweets,” has by all appearances been taken up by Trump with a renewed verve. Since his text-based pivot, Trump has since used the old-school medium at an ever-increasing rate, like his letter directly sent from his new domicile in Florida to resign from the Screen Actors Guild in early February 2021, as well as endorse former White House aide Sarah Huckabee Sanders for her intended 2022 gubernatorial campaign in Alabama. Now, Trump’s latest example of wielding a pen is making headlines for a more informal purpose: castigating one-time Trump loyalist Senator Mitch McConnell.
So what exactly did Trump have to say about the Republican lawmaker in his letter? How did it go public? And, more importantly: is it further proof of a schism developing within the Republican party in a post-Trump America?
Trump called Mitch McConnell a 'political hack'
Like many of Donald Trump’s recent self-authored screeds, the letter the former president wrote and posted to textually attack Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell following Trump’s impeachment acquittal in the Senate was made public through the use of Trump’s Save America PAC, a political action committee the ex-commander-in-chief formed shortly after stepping down from office. Posted on the Save America PAC’s website on Feb. 16, 2021, as Business Insider noted, the statement was ostensibly a criticism of weak leadership within the Republican party, but singled out McConnell specifically as his exemplar in a paragraphs-long indictment.
“The Republican Party can never again be respected or strong with political ‘leaders’ like Sen. Mitch McConnell at its helm,” the statement read. “McConnell’s dedication to business as usual, status quo policies, together with his lack of political insight, wisdom, skill, and personality, has rapidly driven him from Majority Leader to Minority Leader, and it will only get worse.”
Other sections of the letter pulled no punches, going as far as to insult McConnell’s character. “Mitch is a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack, and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again,” Trump wrote. He also made unkind comments towards members of McConnell’s family. Nasty as that may seem, according to one insider close to Trump, the originally intended draft apparently contained much, much worse.
Donald Trump's first draft for the mitch Mitch McConnell letter was vicious
As Politico and The New York Times reported shortly after Donald Trump’s letter excoriating Mitch McConnell went live on Trump’s Save America PAC site, both news sources were told by Republican insiders who wished to remain anonymous that the letter was first intended to be more vicious in its delivery and tone. Per Politico, a person who was present during the initial drafting process disclosed that earlier versions mocked the former Senate Majority Leader’s appearance, including lines “about [McConnell] having too many chins but not enough smarts.” The insider also clarified that Trump senior aide Jason Miller was responsible for the final published draft.
The schism between McConnell and Trump began in early 2021, mere hours before the Capitol Hill insurrection, when McConnell publicly denounced Trump’s repeated and baseless claims that Trump’s election loss to President Biden in November 2020 was due to wide-spread election fraud. Though McConnell later voted against Trump’s impeachment, he continued to call Trump’s purported incitement of the Capitol riot one which “President Trump bears moral responsibility” for in front members of Congress during the Senate phase of the trial, as well as in an op-ed McConnell wrote for The Wall Street Journal. But despite the unduly harsh tone of the final letter, some Republicans are placing the onus on McConnell, not Trump.
Despite Trump's harsh letter, other Republicans are criticizing McConnell
After Donald Trump’s open letter to Mitch McConnell went live in February 2021, CNN reported that the more general, more impersonal sentiment behind the letter — that McConnell’s behavior and public denouncements of Trump within the first two months of 2021 are detrimental to the party — are shared, to a degree, by other profile GOP lawmakers. The news network cited a February 16 appearance on Fox News by Senator Lindsey Graham, in which the South Carolina legislator and noted Trump devotee criticized McConnell for not keeping in line with the pro-Trump contingent of the party.
During the segment, Graham acknowledged the former political partnership between McConnell and Trump, the former of whom helped push many of Trump’s conservative policies, and the latter of whom helped appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court to aid in pushing along GOP-led legislation, per The Times. Shortly after, however, Graham said that they’re “at each other’s throat[s],” stating concern that it would affect midterm Senate and House elections in 2022.
“What I would say to Senator McConnell: I know Trump can be a handful, but he is the most dominant figure in the Republican Party,” Graham added, cautioning McConnell’s palpable rift from his former ally. “We don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of taking back the majority without Donald Trump. If you don’t get that, you’re just not looking.”
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