Senate GOP Marathon to Replace Mitch McConnell Begins

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The race to replace retiring Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who will step down from leadership in November, is already underway. But deciding on the longtime GOP leader’s successor looks to be an arduous process.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) was the first to enter the fray on Thursday, sending a message to his colleagues about his intention to run. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) said he is “seriously considering” a bid Friday, and others, like Senate Republican Conference Chair John Barrasso (R-WY) and Minority Whip John Thune (R-SD), are among those considering runs.

Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump reportedly wants National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chair Steve Daines (R-MT) to fill the position.

And with McConnell at the helm for the Spring, Summer, and into Autumn, an heir apparent is not immediately clear. The contours of the race to succeed him have the makings for a long-term and potentially nasty fight for the top Republican job in the Upper Chamber, with underlying divisions between the rank and file of the establishment GOP and populist wing complicating matters.

A group of ten Republican Senators sent a letter to Barrasso on Thursday requesting him to call a conference meeting “to develop a mission statement and goals for the Conference, and a process to elect a new” leader during the week of March 18.

A taste of how muddy the looming dogfight could be came on Wednesday when rumors swirled of Cornyn potentially running for the seat. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) hit Cornyn with a critical tweet and hinted at a primary challenge to him in 2026.

“It will be difficult for” Cornyn “to be an effective leader since he is anti-Trump, anti-gun, and will be focused on his highly competitive primary campaign in 2026,” Paxton wrote. “Republicans deserve better in their next leader and Texans deserve another conservative Senator.”

Ryan Fournier, chair of Students for Trump, responded to Paxton’s tweet telling Cornyn “don’t bother attempting this.”

Cornyn fired back at Paxton, who is facing two counts of securities fraud.

“Hard to run from prison, Ken,” he wrote.

Cornyn, who waited until after the New Hampshire primary to endorse Trump, has also made an interesting endorsement since announcing his bid for leader, a potential indicator of a desire to make in-roads with the upper chamber’s populist wing. On Friday night, Arizona firebrand Kari Lake announced the endorsements of Cornyn and Sens. Joni Ernst (R-IA) and James Risch (R-ID) in an emailed press release.

“Joe Biden and Ruben Gallego have destroyed our economy, made our streets less safe, and failed to secure the border. Kari Lake will get our economy back on track and finish the border wall. I am proud to endorse her for Senate in Arizona,” Cornyn stated.

Also on Friday, Scott revealed that he is weighing a bid for the position after challenging McConnell for it at the beginning of the 118th Congress.

“This is a big opportunity,” Scott told Charlie Kirk Friday on his eponymously-named show, the Charlie Kirk Show. “We could actually have somebody that believes in this country and believes in solving the problems of this country, running the Republican Party in the Senate.”

“I’m seriously considering it,” Scott said of a run, emphasizing the opportunity for “big change” if Republicans take a majority – as they are in a solid position to do – in November.

Scott also laid out the purpose of the conference meeting requested of Barrasso, as he signed onto the letter, emphasizing it is to decide “what are we going to stand for.”

“So that’s step one, and then it gets pretty easy. If that’s what we are going to stand for, who are we going to elect to do it… Do we want to secure the border, do want to balance the budget, do we want to make sure we’re not in forever wars?” he said.

Scott went on to declare he is not the man for the job if we Republicans want to keep the “Mitch McConnell plan” going forward.

“If we want to go down the same path we’ve been goin’ down, you shouldn’t elect me. I’m not going to do that,” he said.

Thune, McConnell’s current number two, notified reporters on Thursday that he is talking to senators about running for the spot.

“I’m having lots of conversations with our colleagues, and so getting inside input from them about where they see the future headed and what they want out of the next Senate Republican leader. They’re great conversations,” Thune said, according to the Hill.

Thune, like Cornyn, was also late to the game in endorsing Trump, only giving him his vote of support last week. Making the timing even more interesting was that it came days before McConnell announced his forthcoming retirement.

Breitbart News Policy Reporter Sean Moran laid out the “rocky history” Thune has with the former president in an article on Tuesday, in which he underscores his frequent past criticisms of Trump’s “policies, his tactics, and… ability to win a general election.”

When asked about Cornyn’s entrance into the race, Thune quipped, “ I think these are the worst-kept secrets in Washington right now.”

Now, for the final of the “three Johns,” Barrasso. Barrasso is in a unique position compared to Thune and Cornyn, both of whom are term-limited out of being GOP Whip, the second-ranking job. Barrasso, however, is eligible for the job, as Politico’s Burgess Everett pointed out, posing a potential crossroads for Barrasso:

Barrasso has not made a public decision on his plans and seems truly undecided, according to people familiar with party dynamics. In contrast to Cornyn and Thune’s launches this week, Barrasso will decide on his own timeline, according to a person familiar with his thinking.
In doing so, he effectively freezes the field for the rest of the down-ballot races. Under party rules, each senator can pursue only one job in the leadership contests set to take place after the general election.

The report that Barrasso, who endorsed Trump in January before the Iowa Caucuses, “will decide on his own timeline” further indicates the makings of a long-term resolution to picking McConnell’s successor rather than an immediate one.

Finally, there is Daines, who is currently leading a national undertaking for Republicans to win back the majority and has stacked his roster of endorsed candidates with America First fighters.

Politico reported on Thursday that Daines is receiving encouragement to run for the position from the 45th president. Daines said he was thankful to the president and that he told Trump, “the most important thing I can do this moment is to make sure we have a Senate majority in November.”

And that undertaking will be coming to a close just as McConnell steps down from leadership and some of Daines’s hand-picked reinforcements are potentially on the way in January.


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