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GOP Leaders Diverge on Trump           04/16 06:18

   The very public pilgrimages, and the noticeable refusal to make one, have 
placed congressional Republicans at a crossroads, with one branch of the party 
keeping close to Trump, hoping to harness the power of his political brand and 
loyal voters for their campaigns, and the other splitting away, trying to chart 
the GOP's post-Trump future.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- One by one, the Republican leaders of Congress have made 
the trip to Mar-a-Lago to see Donald Trump.

   Kevin McCarthy visited after the deadly Jan 6 Capitol insurrection, counting 
on the former president's help to win back control of the House in 2022. The 
chair of the Senate Republican campaign committee, Rick Scott, stopped by to 
enlist Trump in efforts to regain the Senate. Lindsey Graham goes to play golf.

   But missing from the appearances has been perhaps the most powerful 
Republican elected official in the country, Mitch McConnell, a onetime ally who 
ushered the former president's legislative and judicial agenda to fruition, but 
now claims to want nothing to do with Trump.

   The very public pilgrimages, and the noticeable refusal to make one, have 
placed congressional Republicans at a crossroads, with one branch of the party 
keeping close to Trump, hoping to harness the power of his political brand and 
loyal voters for their campaigns, and the other splitting away, trying to chart 
the GOP's post-Trump future.

   With no obvious heir apparent or leader-in-waiting, the standoff between the 
party's two highest-ranking figures poses an uneasy test of political wills and 
loyalties, particularly for the rank-and-file lawmakers in Congress dependent 
on both men for their political livelihoods. Congress has become more 
Trump-like in the former president's absence, as a new generation of 
Trump-aligned lawmakers emerges, particularly in the Senate, and more centrist 
Republicans announce their retirements.

   "We've got enough problems without fighting within ourselves," said Sen. 
Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., who was swept into office this year with Trump's 
support.

   "You know, being a football coach, that's what I would tell our players and 
coaches," he said. "You bring your whole team down. So that's pretty much how I 
think about this. As a team, we don't need arguing between teammates. We just 
need them to be on the same page."

   The stark fallout was on display at the Republican donor retreat when Trump 
lashed into McConnell as a "stone-cold loser" but then was feted with an 
honorary award from Scott, the National Republican Senatorial Committee chair 
launching the campaign efforts.

   Asked about it later, McConnell responded with perhaps the most cutting 
retort of all: He simply ignored Trump.

   "What I'm concentrating on is the future," said McConnell, the Senate 
Republican leader.

   Unlike past presidents who did not win a second term, the end of Trump's 
presidency has not brought closure as much as it has a lingering uncertainty on 
Capitol Hill about the party's pathway back to power. He is promising to return 
to the political stage, perhaps for his own bid for the White House. But more 
immediately he is being enlisted by GOP leaders in support of congressional 
candidates to win back the House and Senate.

   As McConnell tries to position Republicans as the opposition to President 
Joe Biden's agenda, it is clear that while he is the leader of the Senate, 
Trump remains, for now, the leader of the GOP.

   "Is it ideal? I don't know. But is it sustainable? Sure," said Scott 
Jennings, a GOP strategist and longtime McConnell confidant. "It's easy to see 
how they both could frankly be successful in their individual goals without 
ever speaking another word to each other."

   Jennings said McConnell and Trump aren't jockeying for power as much as 
bringing complementary skills to the campaigns ahead. The former president can 
rev up his base of supporters with rally-style speeches while McConnell can 
assemble the campaign strategies and candidates to regain control of the Senate.

   "One of them is in party-building mode, which is McConnell, and the other 
one is in ax-grinding mode," he said.

   "They don't have to be golfing buddies," he said.

   The congressional leaders want, and expect, Trump to play a role in next 
year's midterm elections as they try to wrest control from Democrats, who have 
the slimmest majorities in the House and Senate in recent memory.

   "God, yes," Graham, R-S.C., said recently. "He's sitting on a mountain of 
money and has a 90% approval rating among Republicans."

   McCarthy, the House Republican leader, said Trump has been helpful so far in 
House GOP campaign efforts. "Like all of the former presidents, they help, 
they're engaged in many different ways," McCarthy said.

   Yet as Trump assembles a political operation from his private club in 
Florida, his biggest priority so far appears to be trying to defeat some of the 
party's most prominent lawmakers, including Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and 
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, who were among those voting to impeach him over the 
Jan. 6 insurrection.

   While Trump has also endorsed some GOP incumbents, other Republican 
lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, have simply announced they are retiring.

   Asked specifically if Trump should quit attacking the Republican Party's 
leaders, McCarthy demurred.

   "The No. 1 thing I want to have happen is make sure the next century is the 
American century," he said. "If the next century is going to be ours, we're 
going to have to change administrations, we're going to have to change 
Congress. That's my focus."

   The deadly riot has become a political line of demarcation on Capitol Hill 
over those GOP lawmakers who stood with Trump to overturn Biden's victory 
during the Electoral College tally. Trump was impeached for inciting the 
insurrection as he urged a mob of supporters to "fight like hell" for his 
presidency.

   One of the lawmakers Trump recently endorsed is Alabama GOP Rep. Mo Brooks, 
who is running for the Senate seat that will be vacant with the retirement of 
longtime GOP Sen. Richard Shelby.

   Brooks had been a leader of the House efforts to challenge the election 
results and joined the rally outside the White House on Jan. 6. Trump 
encouraged the mob that day to head to the Capitol. Five people died, including 
a Trump supporter shot by police and a police officer who died later after 
fighting the mob of Trump loyalists who stormed the Capitol.

   At a dinner last month at Mar-a-Lago, Scott said he encouraged the 
president's support to win back the Senate -- after the primaries are settled.

   Many Republicans recall the 2010 election when they won back control of the 
House, but not the Senate, because some of the candidates who won primary 
elections on the tea party wave were too conservative or hardline to appeal to 
voters statewide.

   Shelby said he wished the former president and McConnell would "put their 
differences aside," minding President Ronald Reagan's admonition not to battle 
each other.

   "Republicans fighting Republicans benefits who? The Democrats," said Shelby.

   "I wish he'd stay out of all the Senate races, but he's not," Shelby said 
about Trump.

   "He's got a lot of energy, he's got a dedicated following. I don't think 
he's looking for retirement."

 
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