Republican senators are rallying around Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) after a disappointing midterm election for the GOP.
A push by a group of Senate conservatives to delay Wednesday’s leadership election is running out of steam, even though senators don’t yet know whether they will have 50 or 49 members of their conference until after the Dec. 6 Georgia runoff.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott (Fla.), who is more closely allied with former President Trump, on Monday failed to convince other members of the Senate GOP leadership team to agree to delay Wednesday’s election — a sign that McConnell remains in full control.
Scott didn’t press his argument to postpone the election or indicate he planned to challenge McConnell when he met with the rest of the leadership team Monday afternoon.
GOP senators said they expect to have a full conversation about what went wrong in the midterms during a conference lunch meeting Tuesday.
Senior Republicans see Trump’s role in the midterm elections, which revved up Democratic voters to turn out to the polls in large numbers despite President Biden’s low approval rating, as a significant factor behind GOP losses in Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada.
“It’s never any one thing, but I think it’s pretty clear that we didn’t perform well among independent voters, which in a lot of those states that were competitive was a big share of the electorate. And I think that it’s clear that running on relitigating the 2020 election is not a winning strategy,” said Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.), who rejected calls to delay the leadership election.
“We need to move forward,” he said, predicting that McConnell will be reelected as leader.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the former whip and an adviser to the Senate GOP leadership team, also rejected the push to postpone the leadership election until next month.
“I don’t know why we would delay an uncontested race. I don’t know what purpose that would serve, and I think it’s important for us to figure out how to come together and remove the distractions to winning the runoff in Georgia,” Cornyn said.
He argued “there’s no one single factor” for why Republicans failed to win the Senate, though he acknowledged “the results were disappointing.”
The Texas Republican noted that “first-time candidates” played a role in Republicans falling short of expectations, alluding to GOP candidates in Pennsylvania and Arizona.
Sen. Shelly Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) indicated that Trump’s claims about the 2020 presidential election didn’t help the Republican cause.
“Looking forward is always a better campaign strategy. Looking back to 2020 obviously didn’t work out,” she said.
And some Republicans allied with McConnell are blaming Scott for unveiling an agenda earlier this year that called for sunsetting all federal law after a period of five years.
Biden targeted Scott in a speech a few days before Election Day for wanting to put “Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every five years.”
Scott, who predicted last month that Republicans would control at least 52 seats next year, declined to comment about his conversation with members of the leadership team after Monday’s meeting.
A large group of GOP senators say McConnell deserves a lot of credit for helping Republicans win in Ohio and North Carolina. The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC affiliated with McConnell, spent more than $33 million in Ohio and $38 million in North Carolina, propelling author J.D. Vance and Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) to victory.
The Senate Leadership Fund also poured $39 million to help Republican candidate Herschel Walker in Georgia; $26 million in the Nevada Senate race, which former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt narrowly lost; and $16.4 million on retired Army Gen. Don Bolduc’s (R) unsuccessful effort to knock off Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) in New Hampshire.
McConnell’s supporters point out that he raised more money for Bolduc, who embraced Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud during the Republican primary, than Trump spent on all Senate Republican candidates combined.
Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.), one of Trump’s closest allies in the upper chamber, told reporters Monday that he still planned to vote for McConnell to serve another two terms as leader and said he supports holding the election on Wednesday as planned.
Tuberville, who says he will support Trump if he runs again for president, said he would still vote for McConnell even though Trump has repeatedly called for Senate Republicans to vote him out of the leadership.
“Is that an oxymoron?” he quipped. “Everybody’s got their opinion.”
Tuberville said Republicans need to review their strategy of using early voting and mail-in ballots to boost Republican voter turnout.
A group of seven Senate Republicans last week called for Wednesday’s leadership election to be delayed until after the Georgia runoff, but it failed to move Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barrasso (Wyo.), a close McConnell ally who has say over the timing.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Sunday joined the call to postpone the leadership election. But on the same day, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a rising conservative star, argued against a delay because no one has launched a challenge to any of the sitting leaders.
“I don’t see why we would delay the election since all five or six of our leadership elections are uncontested. You know the great wrestling champion Ric Flair used to say, ‘To be the man, you got to beat the man,’ and so far no one has had the nerve to step forward and challenge Sen. McConnell,” Cotton said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” advising that his colleagues “move forward with these elections so we can focus again on the Georgia runoff.”
McConnell’s conservative critics within the GOP conference have seized on the disappointment of Election Day to take shots at the GOP leader.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has clashed with McConnell in the past, accused his leader on Monday of “abandoning” Blake Masters in the Arizona Senate race.
Cruz, who is eyeing another presidential run, accused McConnell of putting his own personal ambition to continue serving as leader ahead of the party.
“Abandoning Blake Masters was indefensible,” Cruz said on his podcast, “Verdict,” referring to a decision by the Senate Leadership Fund to pull out of the Arizona Senate race in September.
Cruz said the decision was driven by Masters’s vow during the Republican primary not to support McConnell’s bid to serve another term as leader.
“Because Masters said he would vote against Mitch McConnell. And so Mitch would rather be leader than have a Republican majority. If there’s a Republican who can win who’s not going to support Mitch, the truth of the matter is he’d rather the Democrat win,” Cruz said.
One McConnell ally pointed out that One Nation, a McConnell-allied outside spending group, devoted $13.1 million to the Arizona Senate race.
Retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) last week put the blame for failing to win a critical race in his home state, where celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz (R) lost to Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), squarely on Trump’s shoulders.
“President Trump had to insert himself and that changed the nature of the race, and that created just too much of an obstacle,” he said on CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.”
“And by the way, it’s not just Pennsylvania. You look all over the country, there’s a very high correlation between MAGA candidates and big losses, or at least dramatically underperforming,” he added, referring to Trump’s slogan: Make America Great Again.