McConnell’s Strategy Has Party in Turmoil and Trump on Attack

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Mr. McConnell needs to be returned to his top role after the 2022 elections to become the longest-serving Senate leader in history in 2023, a goal the legacy-minded Kentuckian would no doubt like to achieve. And there is no imminent threat to his leadership position, though one senator said privately that a challenge could have been incited had Mr. McConnell split with the 42 other Republican senators who voted to acquit Mr. Trump.

Mr. McConnell has been conspicuously silent since the attack by Mr. Trump. He made no effort to walk back his Saturday speech or a subsequent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, but, characteristically, he now also appears uninterested in further inflaming the fight by punching back at Mr. Trump. David Popp, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, declined to comment on Wednesday.

His Republican allies quickly circled around him, speaking in the void of his silence.

Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said that Mr. McConnell was on “very solid ground” and that she had come away from conversations with him convinced he was moving forward with eyes open, prepared for the “slings and arrows” that taking on a vindictive former president would attract.

“He’s not exactly a stream-of-consciousness communicator. He is very circumspect, very disciplined in his speech, and I think the speech he gave on the floor regarding former President Trump came right from his heart,” Ms. Capito said in an interview. She added, “His classic technique is to put it out there, say what he thinks and keep moving forward.”

Senator John Thune of South Dakota, his No. 2 whom Mr. Trump has already promised to target next year, said in a statement that Mr. McConnell had “my full support and confidence.”

Senator John Cornyn of Texas said Mr. McConnell had expressed his horror at what had occurred. “I think it genuinely offended him what happened in the Capitol that night,” Mr. Cornyn said. “Obviously, he spoke his mind.”

Mr. Trump spoke his mind as well. In his Tuesday broadside that attacked Mr. McConnell in sharply personal terms despite their close collaboration over the past four years, Mr. Trump urged his party to abandon the Kentucky Republican. He also threatened to initiate primaries against Republican Senate candidates he believed were not sufficiently supportive of his agenda.

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