“If you want to be a Republican leader in the House or the Senate, you have to have a working relationship with President Donald Trump,” Graham said. “Here’s the question: Can Senator McConnell effectively work with the leader of the Republican Party, Donald Trump? I’m not going to vote for anybody that can’t have a working relationship with President Trump.”
Graham’s swipe at McConnell came after several Senate Republicans dared to admit this past week that Trump was defeated in 2020, McConnell being one of them.
“I think Sen. Rounds told the truth about what happened in the 2020 election. And I agree with him,” McConnell said in defense of Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota.
Trump returned fire, calling McConnell a “loser” and Rounds a “jerk.” Trump was so agitated by the whole affair, he agreed to an interview with a real news outlet, NPR, then hung up abruptly after nine minutes and 21 seconds.
Eventually, Trump appears to have gotten on the horn with Graham, whom he knew would simply ask “how high?” he needed to jump to please Trump.
The rancor between McConnell and Trump isn’t new. But Graham publicly calling McConnell’s Senate leadership into question on Fox News is an undeniable escalation of the GOP split as Republicans eye the November midterms. It’s also a clear indication that Graham still believes Trump has more staying power than McConnell in this matchup. Remember when Graham suddenly declared “count me out. Enough is Enough!” after Trump incited the violent Jan. 6 insurrection? That lasted as long as his nose hairs.
In the GOP’s perfect world, Trump would be rooting for Senate Republicans to retake the majority. But Trump’s No. 1 Senate priority this year is to set the table for McConnell’s ouster. Frankly, he doesn’t give a damn whether Senate Republicans retake the majority this year, and he would probably prefer being able to fault McConnell for their failure to do so.
For the McConnell wing, Trump has become the millstone around their necks they can no longer ignore. They do indeed appear to be trying to create some separation from him. It’s already going badly, and Graham’s Fox News jab at McConnell suggests the intra-party row is only going to get worse over the course of 2022.