April 23, 2024

By keeping the Supreme Court as an open issue in the 2016 election, McConnell arguably helped ensure Trump’s election. But despite his overarching loyalty to the party—his willingness to elect more Republicans to the Senate at the expense of nearly all other considerations—the GOP has moved beyond him. Many of the Republicans whose election he recently championed are now his largest critics, such as Senators Josh Hawley, J.D. Vance, Eric Schmitt, and Rick Scott, who unsuccessfully challenged McConnell for party leader earlier this year. (In 2018, the super PAC affiliated with McConnell spent more than $20 million to support Hawley, who on Wednesday complained to reporters about McConnell that “no one has done more than him to flood this chamber and our politics with corporate cash.”)

McConnell’s relationship with Trump was never overly warm, although the Republican leader helped ensure some of the president’s greatest victories—the establishment of a conservative majority in the Supreme Court and the passage of massive tax cut legislation among them. Despite his personal distaste for Trump in the wake of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, McConnell ensured that the impeachment trial on charges of inciting insurrection would occur after Trump left office—thereby granting his fellow Republicans sufficient political cover to vote to acquit. McConnell himself voted not to convict the former president. McConnell has not uttered Trump’s name in years, their relationship further strained by the latter’s penchant for making racist remarks about McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, herself a former Trump Cabinet official.

The most significant break between the two men was spurred by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022. McConnell has been a steadfast supporter of Ukraine, urging for the approval of continued aid to the country. Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers with a more Trumpian view of foreign policy have pushed against the approval of more assistance to Ukraine, with the former president’s support.