Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
Updated: Thu, 10 Jun 2021 19:11:47 GMT
This exchange -- between Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday -- is amazing:
HEMMER: Will you welcome the former President's involvement in the midterm?
MCCONNELL: Well, he has his own agenda. And my view is, we're going to focus on this administration and the future, what they're trying to do to the country and make it a referendum in the fall of '22 on how people feel about this new government they narrowly elected while they continue the 50-50 Senate and a close score over in the House.
Ah, ha ha ha ha!
So, when directly questioned about whether he wants Donald Trump to campaign for Senate Republican candidates in next year's midterm election, McConnell absolutely said "well, he has his own agenda!" Which, just in case you need me to translate that political-speak, means "no, never, not in a million years" -- or something along those lines.
A look at McConnell's full answer explains why he doesn't want Trump kicking around these key Senate races. He wants the focus to be entirely on "this administration and the future, what they're trying to do to the country and make it a referendum in the fall of '22 on how people feel about this new government."
McConnell (and his fellow Senate and House Republicans) can't make the 2022 midterms a pure referendum on President Joe Biden's first two years in office if Trump is out in the states talking about how he really won the 2020 election and how GOPers need to help him overturn the results.
Which, strategically speaking, is the exact right move. Historically the President's party gets crushed in the House in the first midterm election of his term as voters look to balance the scales halfway through the four-year term. Trump lost 40 seats in 2018. Barack Obama lost 63 in the 2010 midterms. Bill Clinton lost 40 seats in the 1994 midterms.
The problem for McConnell is that, as he acknowledged on Fox, Trump "has his own agenda." Which implies that Trump's agenda and McConnell's agenda don't really align. And there's a zero percent chance that Trump won't loom over the midterms in ways that are likely to complicate McConnell's hopes of retaking the majority next November.
For example, Trump has already made clear he plans to campaign against Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski next year -- as punishment for her insufficient loyalty to him while in office. "She's the best friend Washington Democrats ever had—and Alaska's reward for that betrayal is an empowered Left coming after their wealth and jobs," Trump said of Murkowski in a statement on Monday. "I think she will be met very harshly by the Alaska voters in 15 months, and I will be there to campaign against her!"
The problem for McConnell is a) Murkowski is an incumbent and b) she is the Republican candidate best equipped to easily hold the seat for Republicans. Trump, of course, could care less about any of that. He wants revenge on Murkowski for voting to impeach him over his actions on January 6. This isn't about what's good for the Republican Party. This is about (as always) what's good for Donald Trump.
While Alaska is the most prominent example of how Trump's presence (and meddling) could hamstring Senate Republicans, it's far from the only example.
Trump-backed former NFL football player Herschel Walker has signaled potential interest in running against Sen. Raphael Warnock in Georgia. Warnock is widely seen as one of Democrats' most vulnerable incumbents -- and nominating someone like Walker, who has never run for office before and currently lives in Texas, would represent a major risk.
In Missouri, the prospect of Trump endorsing controversial Gov. Eric Greitens in the primary race to replace Sen. Roy Blunt worries Washington Republicans. Ditto Trump's vocal support for Sean Parnell's Senate bid in Pennsylvania. (Parnell lost a House race in 2020, again with strong backing from the former President.)
Trump's endorsement over the weekend of Rep. Ted Budd for the North Carolina open seat makes the congressman the early favorite. But former governor Pat McCrory is also in the race and has been regarded by some GOP strategists as their strongest nominee in one of the swingiest states in the country.
In Wisconsin, Trump has publicly urged Sen. Ron Johnson to run for a third term -- even though the incumbent may be too, well, Trump for the Badger State electorate.
So, yeah. McConnell may want Trump to stay out of Senate races -- and let the, er, experts handle things. But this is Donald Trump we are talking about, so there's absolutely no chance of that.