Former President Donald Trump attacked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his wife, former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, over the weekend after the Kentucky Republican suggested the GOP has a better chance of retaking the House than the Senate because its candidates are of poor quality.
Mr. McConnell made the comments as GOP contenders in winnable places, including Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and Herschel Walker in Georgia, trail their Democratic opponents in polling.
The GOP is trying to take over the evenly-split chamber, where Vice President Kamala Harris serves as a tie-breaking vote for Democrats.
J.D. Vance, who has aligned himself with Mr. Trump despite criticizing him in the past, is struggling to pull away from Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan in Ohio’s Senate race.
“Why do Republicans Senators allow a broken down hack politician, Mitch McConnell, to openly disparage hard working Republican candidates for the United States Senate? This is such an affront to honor and to leadership,” Mr. Trump wrote on Truth Social, the social media platform he launched after being kicked off Twitter.
Mr. Trump also insulted Ms. Chao, who served in his Cabinet but resigned following the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters.
The ex-president said Mr. McConnell “should spend more time (and money!) helping them get elected, and less time helping his crazy wife and family get rich on China!”
Ms. Chao had no formal ties to her father’s business — the New York shipping company Foremost Group. There were questions about potential conflicts of interest during her time as transportation secretary because she made media appearances with her father. Ultimately, she did not face an ethics probe.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has accused Mr. McConnell of being disloyal or too quick to cut deals with Democrats.
Mr. McConnell has faulted Mr. Trump for the Jan. 6 riot but also said he would support Mr. Trump if he were the 2024 GOP nominee for president.
The most recent dust-up came over the Senate GOP leader’s comments about the midterm elections.
“I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate. Senate races are just different — they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome,” Mr. McConnell said at an event in Kentucky.
Some Republicans fear a repeat of 2010 or 2012 when Republicans failed to capitalize on vulnerable Senate Democrats in key states — most famously in the 2012 Missouri race, in which the GOP nominee sank after suggesting women who are victims of “legitimate rape” are unlikely to get pregnant.
Trump-backed Republicans have found success in 2022 primaries, though they might not have broad enough appeal to win in general elections. For instance, Trump-endorsed Senate candidate Blake Masters trails Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in Arizona by 8 or 9 points in recent polls.
Mr. Trump has put the onus back on Mr. McConnell by claiming he hasn’t been ruthless enough in legislative matters, citing GOP support for the bipartisan infrastructure law that Mr. Biden signed last year.
More recently, Mr. Trump said Mr. McConnell was “taken for a ride” by Sen. Joe Manchin III. The West Virginia Democrat negotiated Mr. Biden’s tax and climate legislation, allowing it to pass with only Democratic votes under a fast-track procedure that avoided a GOP filibuster.
“I told the old broken crow, Mitch McConnell, that this was going to happen,” Mr. Trump told a Wisconsin rally crowd. “I said, ‘It’s going to happen to you, Mitch. It’s going to happen to you.’”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the country of origin for the shipping company founded by Ms. Chao‘s father. The Foremost Group is an American company based in New York.