Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele rebuked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday after McConnell labeled former President Barack Obama as “classless” for criticizing his successor’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
McConnell had declared Monday that Obama “should have kept his mouth shut” about President Donald Trump’s response to the health crisis. But Steele disagreed, tweeting that the former president is entitled to voice his view. He also noted that Trump has “yet to keep ‘his mouth shut’” about Obama.
The president has persistently attempted to blame Obama for testing failures and a shortage of medical supplies during the pandemic and has this week peddled a fringe theory accusing his predecessor of “the biggest political crime in American history” while declining to specify what that alleged crime would be.
Steele, who served as chairman of the RNC from 2009 to 2011, has been an outspoken critic of the Trump administration, and has reproved McConnell in the past for his loyalty to the president.
McConnell’s latest display came during an interview with the president’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, at an online Trump campaign event. Lara Trump, who is also an adviser to the president’s reelection campaign, told McConnell that Obama had slammed the administration’s pandemic response.
Last week, on a private call with former officials from his administration, Obama said the handling of the crisis had been “an absolute chaotic disaster,” according to Yahoo News, which first reported about the call.
“I think President Obama should have kept his mouth shut,” McConnell said in the interview.
“You know, we know he doesn’t like much this administration is doing. That’s understandable, but I think it’s a little bit classless, frankly, to critique an administration that comes after you.”
“You had your shot. You were there for eight years. I think the tradition that the Bushes set up of not critiquing the president who comes after you is a good tradition.”
Though Obama has largely stayed silent about Trump since leaving office, he’s dropped a few criticisms in recent weeks without mentioning Trump by name. Last month, he tweeted that “we continue to wait for a coherent national plan to navigate the pandemic.”
In any case, it’s hardly the first time a former president has criticized a successor. A fact-check conducted by Snopes on this very claim in 2018 found ample historical examples of former presidents ― including George H.W. Bush ― criticizing those who immediately succeeded them.