McConnell steps down: GOP faces internal conflict over Trump 

McConnell walks from the senate floor last Wednesday after his announcement that he would be stepping away from his position. (ASSOCIATED PRESS/JACQUELYN MARTIN)

Mitch McConnell announced last Wednesday that he would step down from his post as the senate leader with the longest run in history. He has been representing Kentucky since 1985. But why go now?

Really, “he’s leaving because he’s old. You know, and I just put it really bluntly, he’s not leaving because he’s going to be primaried by someone on the MAGA side,” said Loren Gatch, professor of political science at UCO.

Some Republicans leave Congress when they feel “driven out by the MAGA part of the Republican Party, or because they’re just plumb sick of it. And I don’t think McConnell is either of that. McConnell is somebody who made his peace with Trump, got what he wanted in the form of Trump’s appointing of three solidly conservative justices. But he is otherwise sort of leaving under his own steam,” said Gatch.

McConnell just turned 82, and “he knows that he is not no longer as effective as he used to be,” Gatch said. Recently, there have been “moments in public where he blanks out,” Gatch said, and “it’s a good sign that maybe someone needs to find another kind of activity and, you know, open up a new chapter in their lives, as they say.”

Trump’s effect on the Republican party is something that will outlast his stay, Gatch said. Some Republicans have reported changing their party or position because of the shifting dynamics. 

“You know, I would compare [McConnell] in some ways to, to Mitt Romney, who was another senator who basically left because he felt he had no place any longer in the Republican Party that was increasingly in the mold of Trump,” Gatch said.

McConnell had also stayed long enough to secure many of his own priorities even before Trump. “Having sort of secured that as his legacy, he’s now leaving kind of on his own terms,” Gatch said.

McConnell’s move creates an internal conflict now faced by GOP senators. The pro- and anti-Trump voters in the party now have some choices to make, and not everyone agrees.

In an election year, the search for McConnell’s heir is on. While anything could happen between now and 2026, candidates in the Kentucky primary on the Republican side will probably be more pro-Trump, rather than less, Gatch said.

Currently, the senate split “is 50/50. And Kamala Harris is the one who makes it possible for the set to be the control of the Democrats. So it doesn’t take much and probably the chances of slipping to the Republicans is just a little bit greater this time than it would be in other two year cycles,” Gatch said. 

While the senate is already feeling this impact, the house may go another direction.

However, “what it does for the house, though, that’s not clear. It’s not immediate to me. I mean, the house operates by its own dynamic, and, of course, they’ve got their own problems with a narrow, you know, a razor thin majority and a, you know, and a very weak leader in the form of Johnson as a, as a speaker,” Gatch said. For the 2024 presidential election, Gatch also does not see an immediate impact.

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