The man who keeps saving Donald Trump

Weak. Pathetic. Third rate. A stone cold loser. A dumb son of a bitch. A dour, sullen political hack, bereft of any wisdom or skill.

These are just some of the ways Donald Trump has described his own party’s Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, in recent months.

“He doesn’t have what it takes, never did, and never will,” the former president said in a particularly lengthy tirade back in February.

“McConnell is hopeless and he can’t stop anything,” he vented on TV last week.

So what, you might say. Trump lobbing witless insults at someone is about as noteworthy as a dog barking at the postman. It’s what he does.

The fascinating thing here is not the words he’s using, but their target.

I get Mr Trump’s hatred for his critics in the news media; for the former staffers who’ve turned on him; for the prosecutors digging into his finances; for the handful of Republicans who actively and loudly oppose him. These people are his enemies.

Mitch McConnell is the guy who saved him. Twice.

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In February, the Senate held its second impeachment trial of Mr Trump. The first trial a year earlier, which involved the president’s dealings with Ukraine, never posed a realistic threat, as the Republicans were unified in their defence of him.

This time was different. Mr Trump was charged with “incitement of insurrection” over his role in stoking the Capitol riot on January 6. The senators sitting as his jurors had been forced to hide from the insurrectionists as they swept through the building, hunting them.

The Republicans were no longer unified, and a conviction would have led to Mr Trump being barred from running for office again.

Shortly before the verdict, Mr McConnell announced he would be voting to acquit. He said he believed the trial was unconstitutional because Mr Trump was no longer in office.

“While a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily of removal and we therefore lack jurisdiction,” he said.

Ultimately, seven Republicans voted guilty, creating a 57-43 margin in favour of conviction – ten votes short of the 67 needed. Mr Trump survived.

What would the margin have been if Mr McConnell had used his considerable influence to support a conviction instead? How many colleagues would have followed his lead?

In Mr McConnell’s view, Mr Trump was actually guilty of the charge. We know this because he said as much on the floor of the Senate.

“There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it,” Mr McConnell said.

But he voted not guilty anyway, based on a jurisdictional argument he surely knew was nonsense.

Today, Mr McConnell again used his influence to save Mr Trump, this time by convincing Republicans to block the creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the riot – something several of them had previously supported.

The Minority Leader announced his opposition to the commission, which Mr Trump had labelled a “Democrat trap”, last week. In the lead-up to today’s vote, he personally lobbied his colleagues, asking them to oppose it as a “personal favour” to him.

“It’s not at all clear what new facts or additional investigation yet another commission could lay on top of the existing efforts by law enforcement and Congress,” said Mr McConnell.

Again, he must have known his justification was absurd.

There are still plenty of unanswered questions that the existing investigations will be unable to answer. Chief among them: what the hell was Mr Trump doing during the riot?

We know he made a couple of phone calls: one to Senator Tommy Tuberville, and another to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

The conversation with Mr McCarthy reportedly turned into a shouting match as the Congressman begged Mr Trump to call off his supporters.

“Well Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” the president said, according to testimony from one of Mr McCarthy’s Republican colleagues, Jaime Herrera Beutler.

Beyond that account, and the tweets Mr Trump sent, all we have are the reports from anonymous sources that he monitored the riot on TV. According to these sources, he was “buoyed to see his supporters fighting for him”.

White House officials also told Republican Senator Ben Sasse that Mr Trump was “delighted” by the mob’s actions, and was walking around “confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was”.

That’s it. One contentious phone call and some anonymously sourced claims.

A commission would have the power to subpoena witnesses and find out exactly what Mr Trump was doing for all those hours, when he should have been quelling the violence. We can assume it would uncover new, politically damaging evidence.

But it’s not going to happen. Just six Republicans defied Mr McConnell and voted in favour of the commission, and that wasn’t enough to advance the legislation.

Now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have to set up a select committee to investigate the riot instead. That investigation will be run by the Democrats, making it easier for Mr Trump and his allies to dismiss its findings as partisan.

So, to recap: on two occasions in recent months, when Mr Trump was under threat, Mr McConnell personally intervened to help him. He ensured an acquittal in the impeachment trial, and then got his caucus to oppose the commission.

You would expect Mr Trump to respond with gratitude, not abuse.

Why the barrage of insults, then? Because Mr McConnell, like fellow MAGA pariah Mike Pence, refused to unconstitutionally overturn the result of last year’s election.

“I’ll tell you this, if (Democratic Senate leader) Chuck Schumer were there on the day of the vote counting, he would have said there’s no way we’re going to approve this,” Mr Trump said during that aforementioned TV interview.

“He actually would say that four years ago, right?”

(No, not right. Seven Democratic congressmen objected to the electoral vote count four years ago, and were promptly shut down by Joe Biden, who was presiding. No senators objected.)

“Chuck Schumer would never have accepted the result of that election. Never would have accepted. They would have been out in the streets. They would have been marching,” Mr Trump continued.

“And Mitch McConnell says, ‘Well we have to get down to business now.’ And you know what the business was. Biden signed 17 executive orders, in virtually his first day, and every one of them was a disaster for our country.

“So we need much sharper, much tougher leadership.”

Donald Trump, it’s fair to say, is a serial complainer. He complains about the way he’s treated by the Democrats, the media, law enforcement, the IRS, his own appointees, hurricane victims … everyone, really.

“No president has been treated the way I have,” he sulked in one recent blog post (four previous US presidents were assassinated).

The man’s capacity for self-pity is inexhaustible. He says stuff like this so often that you’ve probably tuned it out by now. It’s boring, uninteresting white noise.

But let’s take a moment here to appreciate how very weird it is.

Mr Trump’s victim complex is so deeply ingrained that he believes he’s a victim not just of the Democrats, but of the Republicans as well. He’s constantly complaining that the party is insufficiently loyal and its leaders have done too little to defend him.

Like his claims about the election, this is the opposite of the truth. The Republicans in Congress have gone to extraordinary lengths to protect Mr Trump. They have defended the indefensible for five years. Their loyalty to him is so complete that they won’t even support an investigation into an attack on their own workplace.

Through all of it, Mitch McConnell has been a central figure.

Mr Trump would not have got his signature tax cuts passed without him. He wouldn’t have got Justice Amy Coney Barrett appointed to the Supreme Court days before the election. He’d be dealing with a full, bipartisan investigation into his actions on January 6. He might even be barred from running again.

And yet, in the alternative universe that exists inside Mr Trump’s head, Mr McConnell is the one who owes him.

“Without my endorsement, McConnell would have lost, and lost badly,” he said in February.

“My only regret is that McConnell begged for my strong support and endorsement, and I gave it to him.”

Add Mr McConnell to the implausibly long list of people who’ve supposedly “begged” Mr Trump for something.

Mr McConnell represents Kentucky, an overwhelmingly Republican state. Last year he beat his challenger, Democrat Katie McGrath, by a margin of 58 per cent to 38. It was his sixth consecutive election victory, a streak that stretches all the way back to 1984.

He was never in any danger of losing. He didn’t need Mr Trump to save him.

The former president has needed Mr McConnell though, and he’s delivered more than once.

Look at the thanks he gets for it, and you’ll learn something about Donald Trump’s character.

Sam is news.com.au’s US correspondent.

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