“Take Care of the Son of a Bitch”: McConnell and McCarthy Talked a Big Game About Dumping Trump After January 6, Then Did Nothing Like the Cowards They Are

In the immediate aftermath of the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, a handful of top Republicans read the room and realized it was probably a bad look for them to condone the violent insurrection and/or the guy who incited said violent insurrection, i.e., Donald Trump. Speaking on the Senate floor, Lindsey Graham told lawmakers, “Trump and I, we’ve had a hell of a journey,” but “all I can say is count me out. Enough is enough.” House minority leader Kevin McCarthy declared Trump “bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.” The mob, Mitch McConnell told his colleagues, “was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.” Now, thanks to new reporting from The New York TimesAlexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, we know that Republican leadership went even further in their private rebuking of Trump and wanted him booted from the Republican Party once and for all. And that, after a few weeks of tough talk, they made the cowardly political calculation to do nothing and allow Trump to maintain his iron grip on the GOP.

According to Burns and Martin, during a phone call with GOP House leadership on January 8, McCarthy said the then president’s behavior on January 6 was “atrocious and totally wrong.” He said Trump was at fault for “inciting people” to attack the Capitol building and that his rally speech preceding the attack was “not right by any shape or any form.” During that conversation, per Burns and Martin, McCarthy asked about invoking the 25th Amendment, i.e., immediately removing Trump from office, “before concluding that was not a viable option.” Two days later, he reportedly even said that he would inform Trump of Democrats’ intention to impeach him and recommend he resign, also lamenting that Twitter wasn’t kicking off Trump-loving Republican flamethrowers like Rep. Lauren Boebert too. “We can’t put up with that,” McCarthy apparently said, adding, “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away too?” (A spokesman for McCarthy insisted to the Times that the GOP leader never said he’d tell Trump to resign, also denying that he wanted certain members removed from Twitter.)

Meanwhile, over in the Senate, McConnell was reportedly just as apoplectic. He, too, apparently inquired about the chances of Trump’s Cabinet getting rid of him via the 25th Amendment, and when it became clear that was never going to happen, he set his sights on Trump being impeached and banned from ever holding office again. During a January 11 lunch with two advisers, McConnell reportedly remarked, “The Democrats are going to take care of the son of a bitch for us,” adding, “If this isn’t impeachable, I don’t know what is.” According to Burns and Martin, “in private…McConnell sounded as if he might be among the Republicans who would vote to convict,” and “several senior Republicans, including John Thune of South Dakota and Rob Portman of Ohio, told confidants that Mr. McConnell was leaning that way.”

And then, of course, we know what happened next. McCarthy, who had spent the last four years serving as one of Trump’s most loyal footstools, was told that conservatives wouldn’t take kindly to his criticizing Trump anymore than he had already, and within weeks he was traveling to Mar-a-Lago to kiss the ring and pose for photos; he later vowed to get revenge on those seeking to hold Trump accountable.

As for McConnell, a partisan hack with no capacity for shame, he apparently “concluded that there was little appetite for open battle” with Trump, who remained very popular in the Republican Party. And because McConnell has famously prioritized his own power over literally everything else, he voted to acquit. (“I didn’t get to be leader by voting with five people in the conference,” he apparently told a friend by way of justification.) On the day he voted to let Trump get away with everything, McConnell threw it out there that there was “no question—none—that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day,” but insisted his hands were tied. “We have no power to convict and disqualify a former officeholder who is now a private citizen,” he claimed, an argument Republicans invented out of thin air to save their asses. Twelve days later, McConnell said he would “absolutely” support Trump as the 2024 Republican nominee, a commitment he doubled down on earlier this month.

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As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake notes, McCarthy’s and McConnell’s craven about-faces don’t just exist in a vacuum wherein Trump did something really, really bad, again, and escaped any and all repercussions. Instead, as Blake writes, “it only strengthens Trump,” and “the next time something beyond the pale happens”—like, say, he and his cronies try to steal the 2024 election—Republican leaders will be much “less likely to even entertain the kind of accountability [they] plotted as the dust settled on January 6.” And the most fucked-up part? Trump knows it!

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