NewsCovering Kentucky


KY GOP strategist on Trump-McConnell rift: There's a "broader fight"

Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Melania Trump
Posted at 7:44 PM, Apr 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-11 19:44:15-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Five months after he lost the election, former President Donald Trump continues to repeat the baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

Several news outlets, including The Associated Press, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, reported that during a speech to top GOP donors behind closed doors Saturday night, the former president said without proof that the election was "rigged" and that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was a "stone cold loser" for refusing to help overturn the election results.

"It's sour grapes," said Tres Watson, the former Kentucky Republican Party spokesperson and current host of the podcast Kentucky Politics Weekly.

Shortly after the storming of the U.S. Capitol, Watson wrote an op-ed for the Lexington Herald-Leader entitled "The Republican Party Needs a Divorce from the Cult of Donald Trump."

"I think it's very clear that the party is heading for a similar experience we had in 2010 and 2012," Watson said in an interview Sunday. "Which is kind of an internal struggle for who's going to run the future of the party."

Watson recounted the strife in the Republican party involving GOP establishment figures and outside challengers who identified as Tea Party conservatives.

"After those primaries in 2010 and 2012, people like Leader McConnell came out on top," Watson said. "I don't have any reason to believe it would be different this time around."

Watson said it is imperative that the party focuses on expanding its tent and pushing back on Democratic lawmakers, but he acknowledged the intraparty struggle could linger.

"I do think you're going to have some very competitive primaries and a broader family of discussions inside the party come the 2022 primaries," he said.

Ultimately, Watson said, the different factions in the party need each other if they want to regain their majorities in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

"We are the big tent party," Watson argued. "There's a place for [Trump supporters] in the party."

LEX 18 asked Watson if he believed there should also be space for the former president in the party.

"He's going to have to decide does he want to be a part of the Republican party or is he a party of one," Watson answered.

But the former president's influence over the party has not appeared to wane. His speech Saturday night was the final address of the Republican National Committee's weekend donor summit in Palm Beach. According to the AP, attendees were bused to Trump's club for his remarks.

He has also hosted prominent Republicans for meetings in the last few months, including Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and has announced several endorsements for Republican lawmakers up for re-election in 2022, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul.