While McConnell argued that the 2024 presidential election cycle would be an “open race,” when Fox News’s Bret Baier pressed him to support Trump if he captured the Republican nomination, McConnell offered: “The party’s nominee? Absolutely.” .
The Kentucky Republican’s comments come just weeks after he delivered a stern reprimand of Trump in the Senate for fomenting the deadly insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. Although McConnell voted to acquit Trump anyway, he called the former president’s actions that preceded the riot “disgraceful and disgraceful negligence in the line of duty.”
“Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” McConnell said, suggesting that the former president could be subject to criminal prosecution.
In response, Trump criticized McConnell in a lengthy statement, calling it “a severe, surly and serious political hack.”
“He will never do what is necessary or what is right for our country. Where necessary and appropriate, I will support the main rivals who defend Making America Great Again and our America First policy. We want to be bright, strong, thoughtful, and compassionate leadership, “Trump said.
Still, McConnell’s comments on Thursday underscore the political reality that Trump remains overwhelmingly popular and there is little desire to sideline him or move on to a new generation of leaders now that he’s out of office.
Even the Republicans who have most frequently resisted and condemned Trump, including the party’s 2012 presidential candidate, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, acknowledge that he remains the GOP’s center of gravity, positioned to continue to be the standard-bearer for the GOP. party if you decide to run for president again in 2024.
“I’m pretty sure he will win the nomination,” Romney said Tuesday in an interview with The New York Times. “I look at the polls and the polls show that among the names that float as potential contenders in 2024, if you put President Trump among the Republicans, he wins overwhelmingly.”
In the latest sign of the party’s lasting embrace of the former president, Trump is set to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando on Sunday. He plans to address “the future of the Republican Party and the Conservative movement,” a source familiar with Trump’s plans previously told CNN.
CNN’s Eric Bradner and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.