Republican officials and operatives on Wednesday reminded the Trump wing of the GOP that the former president owes much of his legacy to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, insisting that the veteran Washington powerbroker shouldn’t be summarily discarded for disloyalty to former President Donald Trump.
Even Trump supporters bucked the call to turn their backs on the Senate GOP leader and emphasized that it is the Kentucky Republican who still has power in Washington.
“As much as I like former President Trump, he is no longer in a position to affect the lives of the citizens of the commonwealth of Kentucky. Sen. McConnell still has that ability,” said Richard McClard, chairman of the Republican Party in Barren County.
Mr. McClard acknowledged that a “vocal minority” in his state was disappointed that Mr. McConnell delivered a blistering critique of Mr. Trump after his impeachment acquittal in the Senate last weekend.
Indeed, Don Thrasher, chairman of the Republican Party of Nelson County, Kentucky, called for Mr. McConnell to resign from the GOP and Senate leadership over the break with Mr. Trump.
Mr. McConnell’s supporters credit him with remaking the federal judiciary by confirming a parade of conservative judges and helping pass the 2017 Trump tax cuts. Those accomplishments earned cheers from both the old-time GOP establishment and the Trump base.
Without Mr. McConnell navigating three Supreme Court vacancies in four years, the former president wouldn’t have been able to take the high court to a 6-3 conservative majority, they say.
“Sen. McConnell has been the most effective leader in the Senate,” Mr. McClard said.
Mr. McConnell reprimanded the former president in a floor speech and a Wall Street Journal op-ed after Mr. Trump’s acquittal, condemning him as “morally responsible” for a pro-Trump mob attacking the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
“His supporters stormed the Capitol because of the unhinged falsehoods he shouted into the world’s largest megaphone. His behavior during and after the chaos was also unconscionable, from attacking Vice President Mike Pence during the riot to praising the criminals after it ended,” Mr. McConnell wrote in the op-ed.
He had chosen sides in the battle for the future of the Republican Party, siding with those wanting to move beyond Mr. Trump instead of the fiercely loyal Trumpians who want the former president to remain the GOP’s dominant force.
Mr. Trump fired back at Mr. McConnell, calling him an “unsmiling political hack.”
“The Republican Party can never again be respected or strong with political ‘leaders’ like Sen. Mitch McConnell at its helm,” Mr. Trump said in a lengthy statement.
“McConnell’s dedication to business as usual, status quo policies, together with his lack of political insight, wisdom, skill and personality, has rapidly driven him from Majority Leader to Minority Leader, and it will only get worse.”
The former president continued his attacks against Mr. McConnell on Newsmax on Wednesday night.
“If he spent the same time hitting Schumer and Biden, the Republicans would be much better off,” Mr. Trump said.
A movement against Mr. McConnell among Senate Republicans has not materialized.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who says Mr. Trump is the future of the GOP, defended Mr. McConnell as “indispensable to Donald Trump’s success.”
Josh Holmes, former chief of staff for Mr. McConnell, said Mr. Trump’s statement isn’t helpful to Republicans as they try to recapture the Senate and House majorities.
“He is not going to teach anything to Mitch McConnell about winning. You’ll recall the Senate had majorities — big majorities — when President Trump arrived. They had a House majority as well,” he told Fox News. “As he left, they had neither.”
Mr. McConnell, 78, won reelection last year and isn’t up for reelection for another six years.
Stuart Roy, who previously worked as an aide for Mr. McConnell, said the fight between Mr. McConnell and Mr. Trump isn’t over conservative principles.
“The primary difference between former President Trump and Sen. McConnell is that Trump is focused on getting attention and McConnell is focused on winning back a Republican Senate majority,” he said.
The in-fighting between the two leaders was unseemly and unpleasant but not surprising, said Republican strategist Amy Koch.
“Sen. McConnell as a leader worked with the president to move his agenda, so I would hope that would count for something,” she said. “With the former president, as we have seen with Vice President Pence and others, that doesn’t seem to matter.
“He just immediately starts swinging, unfortunately. It’s business as usual for the former president,” she said.
• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.