WASHINGTON (AP) - Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell delivered another rebuke of former President Donald Trump on Tuesday, saying that anyone who thinks the Constitution can be suspended would have a "very hard time" becoming president in the United States.
The comment marked the second time in as many weeks that McConnell and other Republicans have been compelled to denounce Trump's words and actions since the former president announced he is running again for the presidency in 2024.
It's a dynamic that vexed the GOP throughout Trump's first campaign and presidency, but one that has taken on a less forgiving tone now that Trump is facing the prospect of a competitive primary and top Republican strategists and fundraisers increasingly say the party would be best served by moving on.
"Let me just say that anyone seeking the presidency who thinks the Constitution can somehow be suspended or not followed, it seems to me, would have a very hard time being sworn in as President of the United States," McConnell said at the Capitol.
McConnell was responding to Trump's stunningly anti-Democratic statement Saturday following revelations of what he cast as Twitter's unfair treatment of him during the 2020 presidential election that he lost to Joe Biden. Trump, who has repeatedly called for the election to be overturned, wrote on his social media app, "A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution."
McConnell's words Tuesday were nearly identical to those he used last week, when he also opened his weekly press conference preemptively responding to questions about the former president's behavior after Trump's dinner with a white nationalist Holocaust denier and a rapper who has made a series of antisemitic statements.
The senator said then that there was "no room in the Republican Party for antisemitism or white supremacy," adding, "Anyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, are highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States."
Reaction from other Republicans has also been critical, even as many GOP officials remain unwilling to directly confront Trump, who remains popular with the party's base.
Speaking Tuesday in South Carolina, Mike Pence, Trump's former vice president, said that "anyone who serves in public office, anyone who aspires to serve in public office or serve again in public office should make it clear that they will support and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Pence, who is widely expected to challenge Trump for the 2024 nomination, added that while he believes Americans are eager for a return to the policies of the Trump White House, "I really do believe that they want to move on to leadership that shows respect for our greatest traditions and respect for Americans, whatever their viewpoint."
On Monday, Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said in a tweeted statement: "Anyone who desires to lead our country must commit to protecting the Constitution. They should not threaten to terminate it."
"I don't think there was an escape clause to not defend the Constitution," added Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
McConnell, as the Republican leader trying to steer his party in a post-Trump era, faces an endless task of reacting to the former president's outbursts. The two men have not spoken since McConnell agreed to the Electoral College tally for Biden at the end of 2020, and Trump has repeatedly lashed out at McConnell at rallies and in social media posts, calling for his ouster.
Still, McConnell deflected questions Tuesday over whether he could support Trump if he becomes the Republican Party's 2024 presidential nominee.
Instead, the Senate GOP leader reiterated the difficulty of taking the oath, which requires the president-elect to defend the Constitution.
"It would be pretty hard to be sworn into the presidency if you're not willing to uphold the Constitution," McConnell said.
Trump's Saturday embrace of authoritarianism is the latest controversy in a young campaign that has thus far included no public events and no travel to early-voting states. Instead, It has been dominated by the backlash to his dinner with the artist previously known as Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, a known white nationalist and Holocaust denier. Trump has said he was unaware of who Fuentes was when they met.
Trump received another setback Tuesday when his namesake company was convicted of tax fraud for helping executives dodge taxes on lavish perks such as Manhattan apartments and luxury cars, in a significant repudiation of financial practices at the former president's business.
While Trump himself was not on trial, a jury found two corporate entities at the Trump Organization guilty on all 17 counts, including conspiracy charges and falsifying business records.
Republicans have been unable to firmly reject Trump as their potential nominee even as many of them try to distance themselves from his recent activities.
House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, who is in line to become the House speaker when Republicans take control in the new year, has yet to respond to Trump, but told reporters at the Capitol he fully supports the Constitution.
Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, a staunch Trump critic, tweeted directly at McCarthy to denounce Trump's statement.
"This week Trump said we should terminate all rules, regulations etc 'even those in the Constitution' to overturn the election. Are you so utterly without principle that you won't condemn this either?" she asked.
White House spokesperson Andrew Bates also took issue with some members' silence. "Asking Members of Congress to reaffirm their oath of office and uphold the Constitution should not be a heavy lift," he said in a statement. "Congressional Republicans need to do that immediately, instead of repeatedly refusing to answer the most basic question."
Associated Press writers Meg Kinnard in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.