But McConnell has generally been successful against his political opponents, and this time may be no different. His decision to speak forcefully against Trump immediately after his vote to acquit was, in reality, the only way that McConnell could guarantee his position at the center of the debate over both the policy and political approaches that the GOP will take in the coming years.
If McConnell had voted to convict, he likely would have faced a leadership challenge, if not outright removal from his role as Republican leader. This would have left a more pro-Trump Republican senator to take his place. McConnell’s vote likely bolstered his standing in the GOP Senate Conference (the majority of whom still support Trump) and retained his ability not only to play a much more significant role in shaping the Senate policy agenda, but also in influencing future elections.
A dispute between the different parts of the Republican coalition is coming, and McConnell has positioned himself as the de facto leader of the effort to push back against at least some of Trump’s preferred congressional candidates — in particular, those who he does not see as viable general election candidates in 2022.
McConnell’s actions in the last several days, then, may seem confusing — or just maddening — to observers on both the right and the left, but they were not illogical or ill-conceived. He is doing all he can to ensure that he is in a position to push the GOP in the direction he believes is best for the future success of the party. Even if it means that he draws the ire of some in the process.