KENTUCKY — One of the top Republicans in Washington, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not commented on Monday night’s indictment of former President Donald Trump. It’s become a familiar pattern.
“I’m just simply not going to comment on the candidates. We’ve got a bunch of them and I’m just simply going to stay out of it,” McConnell said in June as reporters pressed him for reaction to Trump’s second indictment involving the alleged mishandling of classified documents.
McConnell’s silence on Trump’s legal woes stands in stark contrast to some other prominent Republicans, such House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who have defended Trump and criticized prosecutors.
McConnell’s decision not to speak out one way or the other partially reflects years of chilly relations with Trump.
McConnell and his wife, Elaine Chao, have been on the receiving end of Trump’s verbal attacks recently. Chao served on Trump’s cabinet, but stepped down after the Capitol insurrection Jan. 6, 2021. When she announced her resignation, Chao cited the “traumatic and entirely avoidable event.”
“Let’s not forget that Donald Trump has made racist remarks against Elaine Chao, Mitch McConnell’s wife,” said Todd Belt with the political management program at George Washington University. “You would think that might stir up a little bit of anger and resentment from Sen. McConnell, but he’s keeping his mouth quiet because he knows where the energy is in the Republican party.”
That energy, the huge following that Trump continues to enjoy among Republican voters, is still palpable at campaign events. Despite the charges Trump is facing, polls show the former president is leading his closest rival in the Republican primary for president by nearly 40 percentage points.
“I think, you know, when he was in, he had excellent foreign policy and he did a lot for our economy,” Iowa State Fair attendee Joe Doyen said. “If he gets the nomination, I’ll definitely vote for him again.”
Analysts said those feelings are another reason why McConnell, who once called the former president “practically and morally responsible” for the Capitol insurrection, has remained quiet on Trump’s legal battles.
“He knows the power of Donald Trump and the power of his supporters, also the power of those supporters to help deliver the Senate to him,” said Belt. “This time, there looks like the Republicans are in a real good position to retake it.”
After Monday’s indictment, Trump is now facing 91 criminal charges across four jurisdictions.