In the latest example of a growing rift in the United States Republican Party following the impeachment of Donald Trump, the former US president on Tuesday lashed out at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Mitch is a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack, and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again,” Trump said in a statement.
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McConnell on February 13 voted to acquit the former president in a US Senate impeachment trial in which Trump was accused of inciting a mob of his supporters that stormed the US Capitol on January 6.
The Senate ultimately did not have enough votes to convict Trump of “incitement of insurrection”.
But in a speech after the vote, McConnell, once a solid backer of the former president, made an unequivocal rebuke of Trump, blaming him for the insurrection that left five dead.
“There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day,” McConnell said from the Senate floor.
“The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president.”
McConnell’s speech, along with the fact that seven Republican senators voted to convict Trump, has highlighted that some Republican legislators want the party to begin distancing itself from Trump.
But the former Republican president still maintains a hold on the party and his supporters – including several Republican legislators in Congress – remain firmly behind him.
“The Republican Party can never again be respected or strong with political ‘leaders’ like Sen. Mitch McConnell at its helm,” Trump said in his statement on Tuesday.
He also said he would back Republican “primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First”.
Al Jazeera’s John Hendren, reporting from Wisconsin, said Trump’s statement was “a blistering declaration of civil war within the Republican Party”.
Trump is not taking McConnell’s critical speech after the Senate impeachment trial lightly, said Hendren.
“He’s attacking Mitch McConnell and essentially saying, he is on one side of the Republican Party, the rest of the Republican Party is on the moderate side. And he is essentially declaring war against that side of the party.”
Republican legislators have faced censure from their respective state Republican parties over their support for impeaching Trump.
Republican leaders in North Carolina voted to censure Senator Richard Burr over his vote to convict Trump during the Senate trial.
Louisiana’s Republican Party voted on Saturday to censure Senator Bill Cassidy, while Republican Party leaders in Pennsylvania and Maine also are preparing to censure Senators Pat Toomey and Susan Collins, respectively, for their votes to convict.
But there is little sign that McConnell will back down on his criticism of Trump.
In an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal newspaper published on Monday, the Republican leader once again slammed Trump for “the unhinged falsehoods he shouted into the world’s largest megaphone” ahead of the Capitol riot.
“His behavior during and after the chaos was also unconscionable, from attacking Vice President Mike Pence during the riot to praising the criminals after it ended,” McConnell wrote.