With Donald Trump firmly out of office and enjoying(?) his retirement at Mar-a-Lago, the political tell-alls seem to be flocking to the shelves. The latest insider’s account of Trump’s final days in office sheds some light on how his biggest allies — GOP senators Tom Cotton and Mitch McConnell — managed to help derail his last-ditch efforts to hang onto power.
According to journalist David M. Drucker’s new book, In Trump’s Shadow, Trump’s campaign to cast doubt on the 2020 Presidential Election failed thanks in larger part to two of his closest friends in Washington. Though the administration’s efforts to overturn election results in key states like Pennsylvania and Arizona fizzled in court, plenty of Republicans on Capitol Hill were ready to fall in line behind their new conservative messiah, with members like Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Josh Hawley rallying their colleagues to overturn the Electoral College vote on Jan. 6th.
In his book, Drucker explains how rank-and-file members like Cruz and Hawley recruited a dozen or so senators to their cause, and how both McConnell and Cotton, working quietly behind the scenes, ended up derailing their planned political rebellion.
“In mid-December, after the states had certiﬁed their results and the Electoral College had voted, Cotton read in McConnell,” Drucker writes, saying the senator had done research into Trump’s claims for months before the vote. “Together, they plotted to countermand Trump’s bid to overturn the election and neutralize interest in objecting to Biden’s victory that was developing in some quarters of the Republican conference.”
Though McConnell was an outspoken opponent of Trump’s voter fraud claims once the Electoral College vote was completed, Cotton was waiting to weigh in until after the run-off elections in Georgia. Drucker says the senator had planned to publish an op-ed after that crucial race, contradicting Trump’s claims. He held off because he was “worried that Republican inﬁghting could tank the party’s chances” in the South.
“Even as he privately counseled colleagues to follow the majority leader’s prompts and ignore Trump’s pleadings, he urged that they all keep their powder dry until January 6 to avoid an intra-party row that might blow up in their faces in Georgia.”
That wait-and-see approach blew up in his face after Sen. Hawley announced he would object to the certification vote just one week before it was scheduled to take place. Shortly after, Sen. Cruz announced he’d recruited 10 GOP members to vote no as well. That’s when Cotton was forced to make public his break with Trump.
“With momentum building, Cotton reevaluated,” Drucker writes. “He hopped on the phone with McConnell, and the two mulled strategic options for undercutting what they feared would be a “bandwagon effect” in favor of objecting. After some discussion, McConnell urged Cotton to speed up his timeline for announcing his opposition. The majority leader had been aggressively whipping the issue. But he believed that Cotton, with his conservative bona ﬁdes and reputation as a Trump loyalist, might be more effective at talking teetering Senate Republicans off the ledge by providing cover to those who privately wanted to stand behind the certiﬁcation of Biden’s victory but feared the consequences back home.”
He published his dissent on Jan. 3rd, just three days before the insurrection — an event that worked to change even more Republicans’ minds about refusing to certify the vote. But, according to insiders Drucker interviewed, it was McConnell and especially Cotton who ended up having the biggest influences on those on-the-fence Congress members.
“Two senior members of McConnell’s leadership team, Senatory John Thune and Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, emphasized that the whole thing would have gotten completely out of hand if not for the stand taken by Cotton,” Drucker says. “‘Tom played a very important role, especially as people were starting to waver,’ Thune told me on January 8, with the shock of what amounted to an attempted coup, albeit an amateur one, still fresh in the air. ‘He took a risk coming out Sunday rather than waiting quietly until Wednesday; he knew it wouldn’t be popular with the base.’”