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As McConnell Moves On From Trump, Republican Rift Emerges In Kentucky

Greg Nash

On his last day as senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell directly tied the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol to outgoing President Donald Trump.

"The mob was fed lies," McConnell said in a speech on the Senate Floor. "They were provoked by the president and other powerful people."

The statement was the first time McConnell publicly blamed Trump for the insurrection, though he had gotten close in the hours after the riot when he warned of a democratic death spiral "if this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side."

With Trump leaving office, Republicans will have to figure out whether they want to move on from the divisive presidentwho still has majority support among GOP voters.

And, as the top elected Republican in the nation, McConnell will have to decide whether to support a Senate vote to convict Trump on charges that he incited an insurrection.

The decision is already dividing Republicans in Kentucky.

Don Thrasher is the chair of the Nelson County Republican Party and wants the state party to pass a resolution urging McConnell to oppose the impeachment charges.

"I've been getting calls saying 'what in the world is going on,' or 'who are we as a party when we're not advocating to help President Trump,' " Thrasher said.

He said more than 50 local Republican chairs and vice-chairs support the resolution, which calls for McConnell to "stand with President Trump and publicly condemn this divisive and unnecessary second impeachment of President Donald J. Trump."

The Republican State Central Committee will hold a video meeting on Saturday to consider the resolution. The party did not return requests for comment.

Thrasher said he'd like to see McConnell censured by the state party for not supporting Trump. The Nelson County GOP already passed a formal resolution calling on McConnell to "retract his statements impugning the honor of President Donald J. Trump."

"I do not support Mitch McConnell at this point. If we could recall Mitch, I'd lead the charge," he said.

Republican Congressman James Comer, of Kentucky's 1st district, said during KET's Kentucky Tonight on Monday that he will continue to support Trump and imagines he'll stay involved in politics for many years to come.

"He carried my district by almost 50 points, so I'm certainly not going to say anything negative about the president's political future," Comer said

"There is a significant percentage of the Republican base, not just in Kentucky, but all across America, that are involved in the party because of Donald Trump," he said. "They either supported Donald Trump's agenda, or they like the fact that he's not a politician and he tried to disrupt the political process. And because of that, they're always going to stick with Donald Trump for better or worse."

But some Republicans are ready to move on from Trump.

Tres Watson is a political consultant and former Republican Party of Kentucky spokesman. He said the party won't succeed if it doesn't distance itself from white supremacists and the crowd that laid siege to the Capitol.

"I'll be first in the line to make sure that the Republican party does not become a messianic cult of Trump," Watson said.

Watson said he hopes the party will become more policy-focused as it rallies to oppose policies pushed by President Joe Biden and a Democratic-controlled Congress.

"Hopefully that will serve as a reminder of what brought us to the party, and it's not Donald Trump. It's a belief in limited government and personal responsibility," Watson said.

McConnell previewed what that post-Trump era might look like during his speech on Tuesday, saying that last year the country elected "a presidential candidate who said he'd represent everyone."

"Our marching orders from the American people are clear: we're to have a robust discussion and seek common ground. We are to pursue bipartisan agreement everywhere we can, and check and balance one another respectfully where we must," McConnell said.

McConnell has not said how he will vote during the impeachment trial, or the separate vote to bar Trump from ever seeking federal office again, which will likely take place once Democrats take control of the Senate on Wednesday.

It takes a two-thirds majority of the Senate to convict, meaning several Republican senators would have to vote in favor for it to take place.

This article first appeared on WFPL. For more like this, . 

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Ryland is the state capitol reporter for the Kentucky Public Radio Network, a group of public radio stations including WKU Public Radio. A native of Lexington, Ryland has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.