“There is this acute, continued frustration amongst the Republican base at the sluggishness of the Trump agenda in Washington,” said Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff to Mr. McConnell. “That’s not imagined; that’s real.”
Mr. Strange lost his primary runoff to Roy Moore, a provocative former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, who made attacking Mr. McConnell a central feature of his campaign.
“McConnell has become synonymous with gridlock,” said Richard C. Fording, a political scientist at the University of Alabama who followed the race closely. “I think people here are frustrated, and they have bought into this narrative that Mitch McConnell is to blame, that he’s incompetent, that he’s part of the establishment, that he’s controlled by special interests and synonymous with the status quo.”
Allies of Mr. McConnell poured millions into the runoff contest, painting Mr. Strange as a reliable Trump loyalist and Mr. Moore as a lifelong, untrustworthy politician.
But that story line never broke through. In fact, the race spotlighted growing divisions between establishment Republicans personified by Mr. McConnell and his allies and Trump Republicans, even though it was Mr. Strange who had the president’s endorsement.
The gap was so wide that when Mr. Trump campaigned for Mr. Strange, he tried to distance the senator from the Republican leader.
“They say he’s friendly with Mitch — he doesn’t even know Mitch McConnell,” Mr. Trump told a raucous crowd of several thousand people.
That was not quite true. The Senate Leadership Fund, a “super PAC” that Mr. McConnell helped found, spent nearly $9 million trying to elect Mr. Strange, said Steven Law, its president and chief executive. Mr. Law, like Mr. Holmes, attributed the outcome of the campaign to “dissatisfaction with the sluggish pace of change in Washington,” adding that “Republican primary voters are just as angry in 2017…