Trump Takes McConnell’s Side in Republican Primaries

Says he does not envision backing challenges to GOP incumbents

President Donald Trump, appearing with Republican congressional leaders, said he will be very involved in Senate and House primaries in 2018. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump appears to have adopted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s view about Republican primaries.

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, often says that, “there’s no education in the second kick of a mule.”

Trump, appearing with Republican congressional leaders and members of his administration Saturday at Camp David in Maryland, apparently got the message after the Republicans managed to lose the special election for the Senate seat in Alabama to Democrat Doug Jones.

“We’re going to be very involved, in fact not only with the Senate but also with the House,” Trump said of his plans for primaries in 2018. “Protecting incumbents and whoever I have to protect.”

“I will be actually working for incumbents and anybody else that has my kind of thinking,” Trump said.

Watch: Primary Primer — Your Guide to the 2018 Midterms

When a reporter followed up to ask the president if he might engage in challenges to incumbent GOP senators, Trump turned and looked toward McConnell as he said that he did not envision such a move.

“I don’t see that happening. I don’t see that happening at this moment,” he said. “I think they’ve sort of scattered. We had somebody that lost us the state of Alabama, and I think as far as I’m concerned that was a shame that we lost. That should never have been lost.”

Trump did not mention the Alabama GOP nominee, former Judge Roy Moore, by name. McConnell and his political operation had worked to support Luther Strange, who had been the appointed incumbent, in the primary and made no attempt to help Moore after the primary.

Trump did call for people to support Moore, but generally stayed at arms length other than on Twitter. The president did hold a rally in the part of the Florida panhandle that overlaps with Alabama media markets, though.

“If you don’t have the good candidate, you’re just not going to win,” Trump said Saturday.

The session with the traveling press corps came during a weekend retreat with McConnell, Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and other GOP congressional leaders, as well as members of the president’s cabinet and senior team.

Trump told the reporters in attendance that they should expect to see a lot of campaign travel over the course of 2018.

“We need more Republicans,” Trump said. “I think we’re going to go bipartisan. I think we’re going to have some really great bipartisan bills, but we need more Republicans so we can really get the rest of the ‘make America great again’ agenda passed.”

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.