Trump Time Capsule #30: Cracks in the Vichy Coalition?

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the foreground, with other members of the Republican Senate leadership: (from left) John Barrasso, John Thune, and John Cornyn. This isn’t a picture of McConnell with his party’s presumptive nominee, because if such a photo exists, Google doesn’t know about it. (AP photo)

As explained back in item #18 of this series, I’m using “the Resistance” and “Vichy Republicans” as useful shorthands for, respectively, the GOP figures who are fighting the hostile takeover of their territory, versus those who have acquiesced to a conquering force — which no doubt they’ll criticize once someone else has dealt with it. (And to make this clear every time, of course the analogy does not extend to likening this era’s conqueror, Donald Trump, to the historically unique Hitler.)

Mitch McConnell has been a crucial membership of the Vichy coalition, for two reasons. One is ex officio: as Senate Minority Leader during the early Obama years and now as Majority Leader, he has been the most important single figure in opposition to Obama’s programs, nominations, and general prospects. His historically unprecedented overuse of the filibuster, while still in the minority, was an early indication. His current refusal even to consider a Supreme Court nominee, also historically unprecedented, is the latest example.

The other aspect of McConnell’s importance is temperamental. As a political operator and spokesman, he is the exact opposite of Donald Trump. Trump appears to be all Id, reaction, spontaneity. McConnell, by contrast, barely reveals any emotion and says only what exactly fits the thought-out message plan. When he was a Congressional leader, Newt Gingrich would say one entertaining thing today, and a contradictory but also entertaining thing tomorrow. What Mitch McConnell says is never entertaining, but it is always intentional and planned out.

Thus it is highly significant that McConnell said this morning, in a TV interview with cable channel NY, that Trump was “an entertainer” and that he needed to “become” a credible presidential candidate, not being one yet. From the interview:

McConnell: “Trump clearly needs to change, in my opinion, to win the general election. What I’ve said to him both publicly and privately: 'You’re a great entertainer. You turn on audiences. You’re good before a crowd. You have a lot of Twitter followers. That worked fine for you in the primaries.

“But now that you are in the general, people are looking for a level of seriousness that is typically conveyed by having a prepared text and Teleprompter and staying on message.' So my hope is that he is beginning to pivot and become what I would call a more serious and credible candidate for the highest office in the land.”

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How unusual is this? How would you expect the on-message leader of the Senate’s crucial Republican majority to sound about the party’s standard-bearer?

As it happens, there is a way to check! Here is what the same Senator McConnell said about Mitt Romney as he became the party’s nominee four years ago, with Paul Ryan as his running mate:

“Where the current President [Obama] has simply refused to act, Gov. Romney has now pledged to lead. Paul Ryan is an excellent choice, and a confirmation that Gov. Romney is serious about strengthening America's economic future, tackling the deficits and debt that have skyrocketed under President Obama, and returning to a path to solvency and security.

“Americans are looking for leadership that has been lacking on the most critical issues facing our country's economic future. The Romney-Ryan team can return much-needed leadership from day one and help bring real recovery to our economy….

“Gov. Romney and Chairman Ryan will be ready on day one to give America the leadership it deserves.”

“Ready on day one” and “much-needed leadership,” versus “you’re a great entertainer.” This from a man who does not say a single word by accident. For more on McConnell’s statement today see the WSJ, WaPo, and TPM.

(The original Time Capsule thread is here, with items #1-#27. For entries starting with #28, go here.)