Republican senators are set to face two options this January. The first: a GOP Senate minority led by longtime leader Sen. Mitch McConnell. The second: a Republican majority, led by Florida Sen. Rick Scott.
Theirs is a fight that’s been publicly brewing since (at least) McConnell’s December declaration that there would be no 2022 GOP agenda. After another month of missteps, however, their battle might have real-world consequences.
Despite D.C.’s omni-useless conventional wisdom about the GOP Senate leader’s endless savvy, McConnell has given up on the duties of his job, turning on both his voters and his party. Scott, by contrast, is clearly aiming for the job — and is working hard to show he deserves it. Who gets it might depend on which party wins this November.
Scott has placed his chips on a Republican majority and a plan of action should the GOP gain one. Toward this service, in February — 10 weeks after McConnell had promised no legislative agenda for the 2022 agenda — Scott released his 12-point plan.
The release of an actual plan to run on infuriated McConnell, who came down on his leadership colleague with the kind of rage he often spares his political opponents but reserves for the apostates in his midst.
Wary conservatives and disaffected Republicans alike closely watched how Scott would respond to his senior’s public rebuke. Scott surprised the capital city by replying with a series of ads on Fox News, taking his plan directly to the party’s base despite McConnell’s complaints. While few in D.C. agreed with every aspect of Scott’s plan, it was an actual platform — and one he was willing to fight Senate leadership over.
For years, conservatives had run against Mitch McConnell, only to fall in line under the money his Senate Leadership Fund could either provide or cut off. For years, however, he’d remained staunchly in place, with no serious contenders to unseat him.
Misstep after misstep, chiefly beginning with his December announcement of no agenda, however, has significantly undermined McConnell’s invincibility.
In mid-August this year, faced with a historically unpopular president, a slate of radical and stroke-stricken Democrat candidates (and a host of difficult-but-competitive races), McConnell chose to trash his home team.
Over the following days, he backed his trash talk with potentially sabotaging moves, slashing ad-buys in Blake Masters’ Arizona Senate race. Masters, like Ohio Republican nominee J.D. Vance, is a protegee of mercurial billionaire Peter Thiel. And like Vance, Masters was supported by Thiel over McConnell’s preferred candidate in the primary.
McConnell blamed Masters’ alleged poor performance for the cuts, but while Masters has failed to fundraise the race remains competitive by all measures outside the Democrats’ wish-casting.
The reality is McConnell is angry the base didn’t choose his guys. Not content with taking his ball home, however, this week his team leaked to The Washington Post that he’d demanded Thiel be the one who funds the candidates he’d supported in the primaries.
Does a man who wants to be the leader of his party publicly lament the defects of his team and even predict their loss? Does a man who wants to head a GOP majority cut his spending in close races while blaming the voters for selecting their own candidates? Does a man who wants to lead conservatives try to publicly humiliate a conservative mega-donor using leaks to the left-wing Washington Post?
None of this was lost on Scott, chairman of the Republican National Senatorial Committee, who, in a Thursday Washington Examiner op-ed, accused Republican leaders of “an amazing act of cowardice,” treason against “the conservative cause,” and having “contempt for the voters.”
“If you want to talk about the need to raise more money to promote our candidates versus the Democrats’ terrible candidates, I agree,” Scott wrote. “If you want to trash-talk our candidates to help the Democrats, pipe down. That’s not what leaders do. And Republicans need to be leaders that build up the team and do everything they can to get the entire team over the finish line.”
It was Scott’s most open declaration of war yet, but still one that leaves the independently wealthy multi-millionaire safe with the majority of his colleagues. If Republicans do indeed fail to take the Senate in November, McConnell can claim he was right — but Scott can claim he fought to the end with the army he had.
And if Republicans take the Senate (and they very well might), Scott will be the only man in leadership who fought the whole time. In either scenario, McConnell’s grip on power will be severely weakened — and Rick Scott’s positioned himself to take his job as leader, either right away or when the next moment arrives.