McConnell keeps his focus on Biden, not Trump, as GOP aims to win back Senate majority in midterms

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McConnell keeps his focus on Biden, not Trump, as GOP aims to win back Senate majority in midterms

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He is repeatedly ridiculed and vilified by former President Trump, but as longtime GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell pushes for his party to regain the chamber’s majority in November’s midterm elections, he’s keeping his focus on President Biden rather than the former president.

McConnell’s strategy was vividly illustrated during a recent interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier on “Special Report.”

Asked whether Trump would be a help to the GOP in November’s elections, McConnell answered, “I think the midterm election almost certainly is going to be a referendum on the party in power.”

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Pointing out that the Democrats control both houses of Congress and the White House, McConnell emphasized that “they are in charge of governing and these midterm elections are always a report on the performance of those who are in charge, those are who are governing.”

After McConnell avoided mentioning Trump when Baier followed up with another question about the former president, the Fox News host remarked to the Senate GOP leader that “there were two questions about former President Trump. I noticed you didn’t talk about him.” 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters after a Republican strategy meeting at the Capitol in Washington, Oct. 19, 2021. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., speaks to reporters after a Republican strategy meeting at the Capitol in Washington, Oct. 19, 2021. 
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Democrats were already facing historical headwinds – the party that wins the White House traditionally suffers setbacks in the ensuing midterms – as they hope to retain their razor-thin majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate. But they’re also grappling with an unfavorable political environment that’s vividly illustrated by Biden’s sinking poll numbers and the inability to date by the White House and congressional Democrats to pass key items in their agenda.

“Midterm elections are very rarely, if ever, a referendum on the former president. They’re almost always a judgement on the current administration,” longtime Republican strategist Colin Reed told Fox News.

And Reed, a veteran of multiple Senate campaigns, noted that if “you are looking at a sitting incumbent president with approval numbers both nationally and in key states sinking into the low 30s… it’s a no-brainer” for McConnell and Republicans running this year to stay laser focused on Biden and congressional Democrats.

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With decades of experience on Capitol Hill, McConnell’s one of the most disciplined politicians in the nation’s capital, and he’s staying on message.

Asked recently by reporters to spell out the Senate Republicans’ agenda if they control the chamber starting in 2023, McConnell simply answered, “I’ll let you know when we take it back.”

And McConnell is not letting Trump’s taunts distract him as he remains tight-lipped about the former president.

President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talk to reporters in the Rose Garden following a lunch meeting at the White House Oct. 16, 2017, in Washington.

President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talk to reporters in the Rose Garden following a lunch meeting at the White House Oct. 16, 2017, in Washington.
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The longtime lawmaker from Kentucky, who worked hand in hand with the then president, angered Trump in December 2020 by acknowledging Biden’s White House win after the Democratic nominee’s Electoral College victory.

McConnell voted last February to acquit the former president in his Senate trial, after Trump was impeached on one count of inciting the deadly Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by right-wing extremists and other Trump supporters aiming to disrupt congressional certification of Biden’s victory.

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But McConnell assailed Trump in a speech on the Senate floor minutes after the trial concluded, saying that the former president “bears moral responsibility” for the storming of the Capitol. A war of words between the two GOP leaders continues to the present day.

While Trump continues to make repeated unfounded claims that the 2020 presidential election was “RIGGED” and stolen, McConnell keeps stressing that Republicans “need to be thinking about the future and not the past” in this year’s elections. 

For months the former president has regularly blasted McConnell as a “broken old crow.” And in an interview last month on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures,” Trump charged that “Mitch McConnell is a disaster. The Republicans have to get a new leader.”

But regardless of Trump’s taunts, just two Republican Senate candidates and no GOP senators have embraced Trump’s calls for McConnell to be ousted as conference leader.

Trump, who remains very popular and influential with the GOP’s conservative base and continues to hold immense sway with many Republican politicians, keeps playing a kingmaker’s role in the party’s 2022 primaries as he repeatedly flirts with another White House run in 2024.

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And Trump’s endorsements, and potential endorsements, in numerous contested GOP Senate nomination battles have caused McConnell plenty of headaches, with likely plenty more to come as the primary battles continue to intensify in the coming months.

But Trump’s jabs at the Senate GOP leader, and his influence on key races, doesn’t appear to be distracting McConnell, who’s keeping his eyes firmly planted on Biden and the Democrats.

Asked about Trump’s criticism, a strategist aligned with McConnell’s team told Fox News that “Democrats and the liberal media will do anything to change the subject from inflation, empty grocery shelves, and Biden’s inability to manage either, but you’ll never see McConnell take their bait.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, walks towards the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., on Monday, June 7, 2021.  Photographer: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, walks towards the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., on Monday, June 7, 2021.  Photographer: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images
( Photographer: Samuel Corum/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Veteran GOP communicator and former Republican National Committee communications director Doug Heye complimented McConnell’s approach.

He pointed to Glenn Youngkin’s Virginia gubernatorial election victory last November, where the GOP nominee kept Trump at arm’s-length as he became the first Republican to win statewide in the commonwealth in a dozen years.

Heye argued that “unless you’re in that real core part of the all day, every day, Donald Trump glorious leader base, your daily life is not focused on stop the steal.” 

He noted that McConnell is telling GOP Senate candidates to concentrate on the pocketbook issues, such as inflation, that really matter to most voters.

And he added that “when Biden is at 43%, 39%, 41%, pick your number on a given day, it would be political insanity to take your eye off the ball.”

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But Democrats question whether McConnell’s approach to basically ignore Trump will work.

“The reality is that Trump is the dominant force in Republican Senate primaries. He’s escalating the chaos. GOP candidates are fighting amongst themselves to show who can suck up to him the most and in the process they’re demonstrating how out of step they are with voters who decide the general election in their states,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee communications director David Bergstein told Fox News.

Bergstein argued that “McConnell can say whatever he wants, but the reality is Trump is a central focus of every Republican Senate primary and that’s a major problem for their campaigns.”

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