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George Will: McConnell Can Begin To Shrink Trump's GOP Influence

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

What calculations has Mitch McConnell made in the impeachment trial and after? The Senate Republican leader voted to acquit former President Trump. He said the Constitution did not allow for the conviction of an ex-president. But McConnell also said Trump was responsible for months of falsehoods that provoked a riot at the Capitol. McConnell's speech led to a long and loud denunciation from Trump.

Washington Post columnist George F. Will has been thinking about what McConnell's up to. Like McConnell, George Will has a long history in Washington and in the Republican Party. He tells Rachel Martin the Senate Republican leader wants to diminish Trump's influence.

GEORGE WILL: It would be hard to find someone whose dislike of Donald Trump was deeper and broader than Mitch McConnell's because Mitch McConnell is, above all, a superb, professional politician with the patience required of democratic politics. In this sense, he's the polar opposite of Donald Trump, who celebrates a kind of impulsiveness that - I mean, try and think of an adjective less applicable to Mitch McConnell than impulsive behavior.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Mitch McConnell voted to acquit Donald Trump in the Senate trial, but he lambasted him in remarks after the impeachment vote. He holds him accountable for the deadly riot at the Capitol. If he, as you write in your op-ed, sees Trump as a continuing threat to the party, why not vote to convict and ensure that he's not allowed to run again?

WILL: What Mitch McConnell said - the 45th president is guilty as charged, but the occasion for charging him is constitutionally illegitimate.

MARTIN: But you wrote that the heavy lifting involved in shrinking Trump's influence must be done by politics. Impeachment and conviction were the political tools to ensure that he couldn't run again.

WILL: Precisely, but as I say, Mitch McConnell came to the conclusion that many others have come to, which is that impeachment was not applicable to a man who had left office.

By with the heavy lifting, I mean this - a Gallup poll out this week showed that 70-some percent of Republicans want Donald Trump to remain playing a major role in Republican politics. If that is so, then the Republican Party has a split that is going to be profound but not, if Mitch McConnell has anything to say about it, durable. He tends to reduce that.

Now, splits in the Republican Party are nothing new. In 1912, the party split with incumbent Republican President William Howard Taft opposed in the general election by the Bull Moose candidacy of Theodore Roosevelt, a former Republican president. So these fights in the Republican Party are not novel. What makes this novel is, Donald Trump has no deep roots in the Republican Party and in many ways repudiates much of the Republican position of traditional conservatism, of fiscal austerity, free trade, et cetera.

MARTIN: Do you think Mitch McConnell, in a way, brought this upon himself, the dominance of Trump on the GOP, by not repudiating him at any juncture during the last four years?

WILL: I do not. I think the American people brought this upon - on us by making him president in the 2016 election. Put yourself in Mitch McConnell's shoes. When Donald Trump arrives in Washington, McConnell had been here a long time, and he had responsibilities as a senator. He bowed his head and decided to use what power he could for the good as he understands it. He, however, stored up his animosities, I think it's fair to say. And when the time came, he expressed them.

MARTIN: You have confidence that he can do this, wrest control of the GOP away from Donald Trump.

WILL: I do not think anyone should feel confident about the outcome of this, the latest in, as I say, more than a century of Republican factionalism. But there's no one, I think, more long-headed, more meticulous in planning and more steeped in the realities of electoral politics on the Republican side than Mitch McConnell. If I had to bet, I would bet that Mitch McConnell more than holds his own against a man who is a dilettante in the ring against a professional politician.

MARTIN: Washington Post columnist George Will, thank you so much for your time.

WILL: Glad to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.