Senior Republicans are split over how to treat Trump: Pay homage at Mar-a-Lago or refuse to ‘bend the knee’
Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana met privately with Trump on Wednesday at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago estate, CNN has learned, the same day Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to do so.
The Kentucky Republican is “not going to bend the knee” and travels to Mar-a-Lago, a close McConnell aide told CNN, that McConnell will “probably never speak” to Trump again if he can avoid it.
“He’s also never going to mention Trump,” this person said.
Like many other senior Republicans, Scalise and McConnell are following wildly different strategies for managing the former president as he threatens to maintain all semblance of order in the Republican Party.
If they do not find it out soon, some GOP leaders fear, a major accident could happen next. As some see it, that presents the greatest risk for McConnell, who – despite his power in the Senate – is not nearly as popular with Trump as Republican voters across the country.
A person familiar with the thinking of both Trump and McConnell said, “This is a confrontation between a tractor-trailer and a Volkswagen, emphasizing the damage that Trump and his loyal supporters are able to inflame.”
The feud between Trump and McConnell has escalated in recent times, raising questions about whether the two could ever work together for the future of the GOP.
Republicans familiar with the thinking of both men said Trump was not planning to make his statement until after McConnell published his op-ed, which Trump viewed as an insult to injury. This Republican believes that this is a rare occasion where McConnell was not thinking of stepping forward.
“He broke down,” the Republican said. “It’s like when you’re in jail and you finally break up. This is what Trump does for you.”
Now Trump and McConnell allies are sparring between the two men to calm things down, so that Trump does not make good on the threat of a thin veil in his statement to push anti-McConnell candidates in the GOP Senate primaries. Many Republicans worry that doing so would effectively create candidates who cannot win the general election.
“McConnell has one goal: to win back the majority,” said a close McConnell aide. Trump has another target, this person said: “A revenge tour, an abusive tour.”
Rep. Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader, shares McConnell’s goal of winning back the GOP majority, but with one major difference: California Republicans believe Republicans need Trump.
McCarthy has continued to hug the former president, travel to Mar-a-Lago last month and take a pledge from Trump to help him elect a Republican majority in the House in 2022.
According to an adviser to Trump, the former president has said that he believes he has an advantage over McCarthy, and may threaten to give him a major challenge should the minority leader go too far.
CNN’s Manu Raju and Jim Acosta contributed to this report.