Why did Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell strongly condemn President Trump’s incitement to attack the Capitol by his supporters after voting to acquit him? This question has puzzled me for several days. In order to understand this seeming contradiction, McConnell’s political strategy must be considered.
First, let’s look at the reasons McConnell gave for his actions. He laid the blame on Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats for not getting the impeachment documents to the Senate before Trump left office, stating that a president couldn’t be impeached because, according to the Constitution, an impeachment conviction’s penalty is removal from office. He ignored a previous precedent that occurred in 1876 when Secretary of War William Belknap, knowing he was going to be impeached, resigned. He was still impeached by the House and tried by the Senate.
Yet, it was McConnell, then Senate majority leader, who told Pelosi the Senate wasn’t going to return from their winter break until Jan. 19, one day before President Biden was sworn in. He also counseled Pelosi to delay the trial for two weeks to allow the Trump legal team to prepare his defense. Both these decisions made it impossible for Pelosi to comply with McConnell’s criteria for trying Trump while he was still president.
Why was McConnell making this hypocritical and seemingly nonsensical argument? Most people who have watched the actions and heard the words between Trump and McConnell before, during and after the November election know that there was competition between the two over who was going to control the Republican Party after Jan. 20. That’s why Trump stated he was going to run again in 2024. His plan is to maintain control of the party for the next four years. By making this statement, Republican candidates are forced to do what Trump wants them to do to win their next election and to not be “primaried” out by a Trump supporter.
This does not sit well with McConnell because support for the Republicans has pretty well topped out at about 48% on the national level, based upon the popular vote tally in the November election, with about 74 million votes for Trump. Since many of Trump’s supporters are aging rapidly, four years is a long time to keep from losing much of his base through sickness and death. The COVID-19 pandemic will also weaken his base since many have refused to wear masks. The Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol will also cause the loss of Republican voters.
When trying to understand either Trump or McConnell’s words and actions, a major principle must be understood: “It’s all about power.” Neither man really cares about the common good or morality, or even about protecting and preserving the Constitution. Both men are locked in a power struggle for control of the Republican Party.
Let’s go back to the real reason why McConnell voted to acquit Trump in the trial and then turned around and soundly condemned him in a speech shortly afterward. McConnell needed 10 more votes in the Senate to convict Trump. He couldn’t get that many, so, in order to maintain his position as Senate minority leader, he voted with the 42 other Republican Senators to acquit.
McConnell is playing the long game. By placing blame on Trump for inciting the riot, he firmly established himself among non-Trump conservatives. McConnell believes Trump will be criminally prosecuted in both New York State and in Georgia. Those two lawsuits will keep Trump occupied and spending money to avoid ending up in prison. He won’t have time to maintain control of the Republican Party.
Both parties are already gearing up to either protect or retake the two houses of Congress in 2022. The bet is that Republicans will regain control of the Senate and probably retake control of the House. This has been the rule in off-year elections for a long time. 2022 should be no different.
When politics is involved, especially on the national level, always ask the question, “Why the contradictory behavior? The answer almost always gets down to the principle: “It’s all about power.” That struggle over who controls the Republican Party will continue until the 2022 election and possibly into 2024. Stay tuned and learn to read between the lines.