The swift escalation of the feud between former President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) does not help inspire candidates or rally GOP voters in closely watched midterm races in swing states, some political strategists and analysts have told The Epoch Times. The Republican Party infighting may ultimately lead to more disappointing results in the midterms than have been predicted in recent months, unless party leaders can unite on the issues that the electorate cares about most to galvanize voters, they say.
"This is an affront to honor and to leadership,” Trump wrote, adding that McConnell "should spend more time (and money) helping them get elected" and less time helping his wife and family get "rich on China!"
McConnell went on to comment on what he sees as the likely razor-thin margins of victory for either side in November.
“Right now, we have a 50-50 Senate and a 50-50 country, but I think, when all is said and done this fall, we’re likely to have an extremely close Senate, either our side up slightly or their side up slightly.”
Trump may have been particularly sensitive to such comments given the close attention given to Senate races where insurgent candidates he has endorsed are competing against Democrats, such as in Pennsylvania, where TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz is running against Democratic candidate John Fetterman for the seat vacated by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey; Ohio, where author and personality J.D. Vance seeks to defeat the Democratic nominee Rep. Tim Ryan; Arizona, where venture capitalist Blake Masters seeks to oust incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly; and Georgia, where former football star Hershel Walker (also endorsed by McConnell) is running against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock.
An Unneeded DistractionThe quarrel between Trump and McConnell is not only unnecessary, since the two politicians agree on more than they disagree on and both want to help defeat Democrats, but is also an increasing distraction from the issues of concern to ordinary voters. Public discontent with the Biden administration’s handling of economic and social matters could provide the groundwork for broad GOP victories in the absence of such a distraction, the analysts say.
“I think voters are more concerned about issues like inflation, immigration, and crime, they’re not sitting there saying 'Oh my gosh, Donald Trump is disparaging Mitch McConnell’s wife,'” John Feehery, a strategist, commentator, and former press secretary to Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), told The Epoch Times.
“It’s ironic that he’s disparaging McConnell’s wife, because she worked for Trump for four years. If he had known that McConnell’s wife is so involved in this stuff, why did he have her in his employ for so long?” Feehery asked.
More importantly, Trump’s criticisms of McConnell are needlessly divisive and undermine the efforts that McConnell is making to help candidates in swing states where results may be extremely close, Feehery believes. Feehery contrasted the financial backing that McConnell has provided to candidates with the more symbolic support of an endorsement.
Economy Above AllFrom the candidates’ point of view, the most practical thing is not to take sides with either Trump or McConnell in their current tiff but to present themselves as unifiers—at least within the GOP—willing and able to take on the policies of the Biden administration on the issues of concern to the average voter, Feehery believes.
“I think it’s never a good thing when Republicans are fighting with one another. There also seems to be a spat going on between McConnell and Rick Scott,” the Florida senator, Feehery said.
Such disunity can deprive candidates on the ground of votes they badly need and may even contribute to a scenario where disaffected Republican leaders are actively helping the other side.
The infighting does not help Republican candidates who want to portray themselves as in a strong position to fix an economy derailed by President Joe Biden, Feehery believes.
Struggling CampaignsOther observers and strategists echo the view that Republican candidates should keep their focus on Biden’s Achilles heel, namely inflation. Straying from the critical issues has been a tactical and logistical mistake, they argue.
“The Republicans are united in their criticisms of President Biden and the direction in which the Democrats want to take the country. Clearly, what they ought to do is circle the wagons and do the best they can” on economic issues, D. Stephen Voss, a professor in the political science department at the University of Kentucky, told The Epoch Times.
Given the widely criticized missteps of the Biden administration, and its association in the public mind with record inflation, the Senate races should not be as competitive as they are, Voss believes.
“Not only have Trump’s attacks on other Republicans weakened the unity of the Republican Party, but the party’s organizations have had to spend massive amounts of election money in the primaries trying to hold off fairly weak candidates so that they could retake the senate,” Voss said.
“So already, this clash between the Trump movement and the Republican establishment has hurt the party’s resources by causing campaign resources to dwindle,” he added.
The infighting and a potential backlash against Trump could have bad practical consequences on the field, including disappointing results for Trump-endorsed candidates in swing states at a time when control of the Senate hangs in the balance, Voss believes.
“The race everyone’s talking about now is Pennsylvania, where Dr. Oz received the nomination but now his campaign might end up costing the GOP a Senate seat that should have been theirs. We’re seeing how badly Oz is starting to trail in the polls. Oz is underperforming and may not get that seat,” he added.
A similar phenomenon is at work in Ohio, where J.D. Vance currently looks weaker than an insurgent GOP Senate candidate in the state should look at this juncture, Voss said.
Other examples abound. Normally, a popular GOP Senate candidate in Georgia would be doing quite well in the polls, given the political composition of the Georgia electorate and given how opposition parties historically have performed during midterms. But Voss called the Georgia race “one of McConnell’s headaches.” Voss also pointed to the Arizona Senate race, where Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly may end up handily defeating the GOP insurgent in what should have been a much more competitive race.
Again, the possible results run counter to trusted historical models going back to the presidency of John F. Kennedy, Jr.
“The party that holds the White House has not gained more than two Senate seats since JFK, yet the forecast now suggests that the Democrats could gain two or more seats. Prospects for the Republicans taking the Senate are poor, despite the fact that the president is unpopular,” Voss said.
“You can’t blame Trump for this. Having unexpected candidacies has hurt the Republican Party, but so has the ruling on abortion, which has whipped up Democrat voters,” he added.
David Carlucci, a former New York State senator who now works as a political commentator, also believes that the disunity is hurting the Republican candidates, and that the divides may grow as some who received Trump’s support during the primary races may now seek to identify more closely with McConnell.
McConnell Lowering ExpectationsKeith Naughton, president of Silent Majority Strategies, a consultancy based in Germantown, Maryland, concurs about the political costs of the lack of Republican unity.
“The dispute between Trump and McConnell distracts candidates and the Republican Party organization away from winning races. McConnell is trying to lower expectations and wants to make sure his fellow senators do not blame him if the GOP fails to take the majority,” Naughton told The Epoch Times.
“He is on pretty solid ground, since Trump has weighed in on all the primaries and is responsible for many of the candidates. If Republicans don’t gain the majority, McConnell is going to make sure Trump gets the blame,” Naughton added.
The Epoch Times has reached out to Trump's representatives and McConnell's staff for comment.