The Real News in What Mitch McConnell Said

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
Next month in Cleveland! (Curt Teich Postcard Archives-Lake County Illinois, Public Domain,)

A reader who works in a big-city law firm thinks I missed the point in Trump Time Capsule #30. The theme of that installment was that Mitch McConnell, the relentlessly on-message leader of the Senate Republicans, had declined to call Donald Trump a “credible” presidential candidate—and that his refusal was significant.

The reader writes:

What McConnell said is merely stating the obvious, and his comment was about Trump’s ability to win the election, not about his qualifications to be President.

What I found more interesting is McConnell’s refusal last week to respond to a question about whether Trump was qualified. His silence “spoke volumes,” as they say. Can you imagine any other campaign in our lifetimes where one of a major party’s leader wasn’t willing to affirm the suitability of the party’s Presidential candidate? That’s unprecedented.

The fact is that any intelligent, reasonably well-informed, sensible adult, having watched and read about Trump, knows to a certainty that, political ideology aside, he’s absolutely unfit for the office. I have no doubt that McConnell knows that, Paul Ryan knows that, every Republican Senator (with the possible exception of Jeff Sessions) knows that. But they’re stuck with him.

***

While I’m in the neighborhood:

I was struck by Trump’s statement today that his former opponents in the primaries should either endorse him or be “banned” from running for office. This reinforces something I’ve been thinking about regarding Trump.

Many of his supporters (and Trump himself) admire him for being willing to say what he’s thinking even if “politically incorrect.” I find nothing admirable in this trait, which I suspect is more about lack of impulse control than a principled decision to be blunt. As we become mature adults, we come to understand that there are times when you shouldn’t say what you’re thinking. Speaking out will be contrary to your own interest, or it will hurt others, or both. Remaining silent is often just good judgment.

In this case, Trump’s statement doesn’t do anything to help his campaign. Even if he were to successfully bully or shame Rubio, Cruz, Kasich or Bush into endorsing him, it’s not going to add votes to his column. In fact, his whining about not getting their endorsement makes him look weak or desperate. And, in possibly further alienating sitting Republican Senators and other Republican officials, he’s unnecessarily further damaging a relationship that, were he to be elected President, he will surely need at some point.

So, rather than exhibiting an admirable quality of bluntness, Trump once again shows that he is merely immature and lacking in judgment.

For previous items in the “Trump Nation” thread, you can go here.