The Senate minority leader previously said "that President Trump is practically and morally responsible" for last month's deadly rioting at the Capitol
Donald Trump Mitch McConnell
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (left) and former President Donald Trump in 2017
| Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty

Despite recently speaking out against Donald Trump for his role in the riots at the Capitol on Jan. 6, Sen. Mitch McConnell now says he would back the former president if Trump decides to run in 2024 and clinches the GOP nomination.

The Senate minority leader, 79, told Bret Baier Thursday on Baier's Fox News Special Report that he would "absolutely" support Trump, 74, should he be named the Republican nominee during the next presidential election.

However, "There's a lot to happen between now and '24," and McConnell said he has "at least four members" in the Senate "who are planning on running for president, plus governors and others."

"There is no incumbent, [so] it should be a wide-open race and fun for you all to cover," he told Baier, 50. (According to Punchbowl News, a political news website, McConnell's aides suggested he might have misheard Baier's question about supporting Trump.)

McConnell also said that the party has "unified in opposition to this new administration's extremely progressive approach," adding that President Joe Biden "has made it quite easy for us to get together."

Despite McConnell's change in tone, there are fractures among leading Republicans about Trump's future role.

The House of Representatives' No. 3 GOP member, Rep. Liz Cheney, voted to impeach Trump and has spoken openly that he should have no place in the party. Her view is shared by a handful of other conservative lawmakers, such as Rep. Adam Kinzinger, though Trump remains robustly popular with the GOP base and argues he lifts the prospect of down-ballot candidates.

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President Trump And Sen. Mitch McConnell Address Media After Working Lunch
Sen. Mitch McConnell (left) and former President Donald Trump
| Credit: WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 16: (AFP OUT) U.S. President Donald Trump (R) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) talk to reporters in the Rose Garden following a lunch meeting at the White House October 16, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump and McConnell tried to erase reporting that they were not on the same page with the GOP legislative agenda and priorities. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Earlier this month, Trump was acquitted in his unprecedented second impeachment trial after being charged in January with inciting an insurrection when a mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol during a joint session of Congress and five people died.

And while McConnell voted to acquit Trump, the Kentucky senator publicly lambasted the 45th president for his role in the riots.

"The mob was fed lies. ... They were provoked by the president and other powerful people," McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor on Jan. 19.

McConnell later offered another strong rebuke of Trump, saying soon after his acquittal on the Senate floor that "President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office as an ordinary citizen. ... He didn't get away with anything yet."

"There's no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day," McConnell added then. "The people that stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president."

Mitch McConnell
Sen. Mitch McConnell
| Credit: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc/Getty

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In an interview with The New York Times this week, Sen. Mitt Romney also talked about Trump's political future and how he doesn't think the businessman-turned-politician is going anywhere anytime soon.

One of the most prominent Republicans opposing Trump, Romney, 73, spoke candidly about the paradox of the former president's role and what it means for other conservatives who have broken with him.

"Will President Trump continue to play a role in my party? I'm sure he will," the Utah senator told the Times' Dealbook in a virtual interview that aired Tuesday. "He has, by far, the largest voice, and a big impact in my party."

Romney, himself the 2012 Republican nominee for president, continued, "I expect he will continue playing a role. I don't know if he'll run in 2024 or not, but if he does I'm pretty sure he will win the nomination."

Asked if he would campaign against Trump in the future, Romney (who once met with Trump about becoming secretary of state) said he would "not be voting for President Trump again — I haven't voted for him in the past — and I would probably be getting behind somebody who I thought more represented the tiny wing of the Republican Party that I represent."