Politics

McConnell to Trump: Don't Try to Fight Over the GOP Platform

Majority leader says presumptive Republican nominee won't define the party

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Roll Call he doesn't expect the platform at next month's Republican convention to be much different from previous years. (Tom Williams/Roll Call)

Mitch McConnell vows Donald Trump won't define the Republican Party and warns that he shouldn't fight over the GOP's platform.    

And that's not just idle talk.  

"I told Donald Trump I thought we ought not to have a fight over the platform, that he wasn't going to change what we think Republicans are," the Kentucky Republican told Roll Call. "He wouldn't be the first candidate for president that didn't follow every particular part of the platform, and I recommended to him that we not get in a fight over the platform."  

McConnell predicted that the platform coming out of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next month would be "very similar to the platforms that we have adopted in the past ."   

[ Trump's Hope and Trade ]  

One of the likely points of contention between establishment Republicans and Trump will be trade. The New York billionaire's protectionist rhetoric is at odds with the GOP which relies heavily on support from the business community and routinely defends their interests.   

McConnell has an insider already lined up in case a fight over the platform develops.  

As Senate majority leader, the task of selecting the chairman of the platform committee was McConnell's this year. He chose one of his top lieutenants , Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming.   

Barrasso has predicted unity among Republicans at the convention. He said the process will be driven by the 112 members of the panel drafting the platform, an assertion echoed by the Republican National Committee.  

"The platform will be crafted, voted on and approved by the delegates that have been elected by Republican grassroots voters and activists," RNC spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said.  

Trump's campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this story.  

McConnell's comments about the 2016 platform came shortly after he raised concerns about Trump in a CNN interview . McConnell worried that the real estate mogul might further alienate Hispanic voters, just as GOP nominee Barry Goldwater did with black voters in 1964.  

"The attacks that he's routinely engaged in, for example, going after Susana Martinez, the Republican governor of New Mexico, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, I think, was a big mistake," McConnell said on Thursday.  

[ Turns Out Trump Has Always Liked Susana Martinez ]  

Trump also has come under fire recently for comments he made about the federal judge in civil litigation involving Trump University . He told The Wall Street Journal that U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the U.S.-born son of Mexican immigrants, had "an absolute conflict" because he was "of Mexican heritage."  

Even so, establishment Republicans are falling in line.  

McConnell spoke with Roll Call just after Speaker Paul D. Ryan announced in an op-ed in his hometown newspaper that he would vote for Trump for president in November. McConnell had already committed to doing so.  

[ Ryan Finally Says He Will Vote For Trump ]  

"I think we're in the process of unifying behind the nominee," McConnell said. "You can see that in the poll data that indicates Republicans are coming together no matter who they may have supported earlier in the process."  

McConnell will be at the convention as a Kentucky delegate. But he anticipates that many of his colleagues will not be joining him there.  

"A lot has been made of the fact that some people aren't coming to the convention," McConnell said. "It's like nobody can read any history. Every time we have a convention, most of the candidates in competitive races don't go to the convention."  

A student of conventions

McConnell has been a student of party political conventions dating to 1956, when he watched with interest the television coverage of the Democratic and Republican national conventions that led to the second battle between President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Democratic challenger Adlai Stevenson II.   

"The broadcast was nothing more than a view of the podium, with intermittent observations offered by Chet Huntley and David Brinkley or Walter Cronkite," McConnell wrote in his new memoir. "In other words, it was deadly boring and I would venture a guess that I was probably the only 14-year-old boy in America interested enough in politics to watch both conventions, gavel to gavel."  

McConnell has been on a media blitz promoting his book "The Long Game," which focuses on his winding path to achieving the pinnacle of a career as a legislator, becoming majority leader .  

Among the passages that have received the most attention are those about McConnell's longtime opposite number, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. He wrote that Reid has a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality" and makes outlandish comments to the media and in speeches on the Senate floor.  

[ Reid: Does McConnell Agree With Trump That 'Women are Dogs and Pigs'? ]  

But McConnell said he has not discussed what he wrote about Reid with the Nevada Democrat, claiming that there's no real need — everything mentioned was "quite public."  

Reid, for his part, has repeatedly blamed McConnell for Trump's rise.  In a recent Politico interview , he suggested that McConnell "cuddled up together" with the GOP nominee for president.  

"My job is to tell the people that Mitch McConnell is one of the reasons we have Trump," Reid said. "Everything that Trump is, McConnell led the charge."  

Responding to that, McConnell said such attacks are part of the game.  

"Suggesting I agree with Donald Trump on a lot of things I obviously don't agree with Donald Trump on, I view that as just business," McConnell said. "It's not something we have to discuss on the floor."

Play ball

For all their political assaults, Reid and McConnell have a shared love of the game of baseball that has carried throughout their years working together.  

Their across-the-aisle conversations sometimes focus on Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper.  

[ Reid, McConnell Agree on Bryce Harper #NATITUDE ]  

McConnell said his favorite memories of watching baseball date to his childhood when he lived in Augusta, Georgia, attending 35-40 games played by a minor league affiliate of the Detroit Tigers.  

"We were out there all the time, eating hot dogs, watching baseball. It was terrific," McConnell said. "Baseball both is exhilarating and humbling. One of my first really humbling experiences was pitching in an all-star game when I walked the bases loaded, walked the guy across the plate and gave up a bases-loaded home run, which probably eliminated any thoughts I might've had that I had a future in baseball."  

McConnell turned to politics after his short-lived youth baseball career, a path entirely unlike his former Senate colleague from Kentucky, Hall-of-Famer Jim Bunning .  

Contact Lesniewski at niels@cqrollcall.com and follow him on Twitter @nielslesniewski .

Biography: Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Position: Senate Majority Leader

Residence: Louisville, Ky.

Born: Feb. 20, 1942; Sheffield, Ala.

Religion: Baptist

Family: Wife, Elaine L. Chao; three children

Education: U. of Louisville, B.A. 1964; U. of Kentucky, J.D. 1967

Military Service: None

Career: Lawyer; U.S. Justice Department official; congressional aide

First Elected: 1984 (6th term)

Latest Election: 2014 General (56.19%)

Political Highlights: Jefferson County judge-executive, 1978-85; NRSC Chairman, 1999-2001; Asst. Majority Leader, 2003-2007; Minority Leader, 2007-2015.

Committees:   Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry (Conservation, Forestry & Natural Resources; Livestock, Marketing & Agriculture Security; Nutrition, Specialty Crops, & Agricultural Research);  Appropriations (Agriculture; Defense; Energy-Water; Interior-Environment; Military Construction-VA; State-Foreign Operations);   Rules & Administration.

Biographical information compiled by Alex Clearfield. 

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