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Senate Republicans will face leadership struggle between Trump, McConnell views

The
race
to

succeed
Senate
Minority
Leader
Mitch
McConnell

(R-Ky.)
will
serve
as
a
microcosm
of
the
same
challenges
that
have
confronted
the
broader
Republican
Party
over
the
last
eight
years.

The
front-runners
for
the
post,
Sens.
John
Thune
(R-S.D.)
and
John
Cornyn
(R-Tex.),
have
more
than
20
years
each
in
congressional
tenure,
hailing
from
the
traditional
Reagan-Bush
orthodoxy
that
most
Republican
senators
still
find
comfortable.
A
third
aspirant,
Sen.
John
Barrasso
(R-Wyo.),
has
lurched
rightward
in
recent
years
as
Donald
Trump’s
nativist
populism
took
root.

And
as
the
surprise
McConnell
news
broke
open,
with
his
stepping
out
of
leadership
at
year’s
end,
the
more
junior
Republicans
began
floating
other
contenders
who
are
more
reflexively
accommodating
to
Trump’s
wishes.

“There’s
no
doubt
it’s
time
to
turn
the
page.
I
mean,
we’ve
got
to
turn
the
page
here
as
a
party.
We’ve
got
to
get
back
to
supporting
working
people
over
corporate
interests.
We’ve
got
to
get
rid
of
the
corporate
money
that
has
gushed
into
our
politics,”
Sen.
Josh
Hawley
(R-Mo.),
a
frequent
McConnell
critic,
told
reporters.

In
many
ways,
the
Senate
Republican
Conference
has
served
as
the
last
bulwark
of
traditional
conservatism
as
it’s
been
represented
by
McConnell,
who
won
his
first
Senate
race
on
the
coattails
of
Ronald
Reagan’s
1984
landslide
reelection.

Even
in
recent
years,
a
clear
majority
of
Senate
Republicans
preferred
lower
taxes
for
the
wealthy
and
far
less
government
regulations,
combined
with
a
strong
national
defense
that
would
reassure
allies
and
intimidate
our
rivals.

But
that
orthodoxy
has
received
its
stiffest
challenge
over
the
last
year,
as
Hawley
and
about
a
dozen
other
Republicans
have
vocally
opposed
McConnell
and
tried
to
exert
pressure
on
his
potential
successors.

In
a
quick
aside
during
his
bombshell
speech
Wednesday,
McConnell
noted
the
GOP’s
dramatic
shift
on
global
security
after
his
bruising
battle
with
his
Trumpian
wing
to
pass
legislation
that
would
provide
more
than
$60
billion
to
Ukraine’s
defenses.

“Believe
me,
I
know
the
politics
within
my
party
at
this
particular
moment
in
time.
I
have
many
faults

misunderstanding
politics
is
not
one
of
them,”
he
said.

Having
turned
82
last
week,
McConnell
has
seen
the
entire
party
shift
over
the
last
17
years,
the
longest
service
for
any
Republican
or
Democratic
leader.

His
allies
were
quick
to
defend
McConnell
as
not
getting
pushed
out
by
Trump,
with
whom
he
has
had
a
political
cold
war
since
late
2020,
or
his
enemies
within
the
GOP
conference.
“No,
I
do
not
think
he
was
forced
out
in
any
way.
This
was
his
decision,”
Sen.
Susan
Collins
(R-Maine)
said.

Since
McConnell
took
a
nasty
fall
last
March
that
kept
him
out
of
the
Senate
for
six
weeks,
many
Republicans
had
been
wondering
how
long
he
would
stay
on
the
job.
Allies
to
potential
successors
engaged
in
whisper
campaigns
to
try
to
explain
who
should
get
the
job.

Now
that
campaign
can
be
held
out
in
the
open,
even
as
the
aspirants
paused
on
Wednesday.
“Just
hold
that
thought,”
Thune
said
after
reporters
asked
his
intentions.

“That
election
is
nine
months
away,
and
there’s
a
much
more
important
election
between
now
and
then,”
Barrasso
said,
suggesting
the
November
general
election
should
preoccupy
senators’
minds.

Only
Cornyn
gave
a
slight
admission
of
his
plans.
“I
think
today
is
about
Mitch
McConnell,
but
I’ve
made
no
secret
of
my
intention,”
he
said.

Some
suggested
that,
behind
the
scenes,
the
potential
successors
have
fully
launched
their
bids.
“I’ve
had
a
lot
of
calls
today,”
Sen.
Susan
Collins
(R-Maine)
told
reporters
late
Wednesday.

Every
Senate
leadership
election
is
the
most
personal
of
transactions

sometimes
a
vote
comes
down
to
some
political
act
done
a
decade
or
two
ago,
sometimes
it
comes
from
a
key
legislative
favor
offered
years
ago

but
this
race
is
shaping
up
to
test
those
traditions
more
than
ever.

And
the
decisive
cluster
of
Republican
votes
is
likely
to
come
from
those
loudest
anti-McConnell
voices.

Thune
starts
out
with
a
slight
edge
over
Cornyn,
in
part
because
Thune’s
current
role
as
No.
2
in
leadership,
the
whip,
makes
him
a
natural
successor,
according
to
multiple
senior
GOP
aides.

A
third
of
today’s
49
Senate
Republicans
took
office
after
Cornyn,
who
served
six
years
as
whip
and
four
years
as
head
of
Senate
Republicans’
campaign
arm,
left
the
ranks
of
elected
leadership
at
the
end
of
2018.

But
most
Republicans
believe
Thune
is
short
of
a
clear
majority
of
the
49
currently
serving
in
the
GOP,
with
Cornyn
maybe
up
to
a
handful
or
so
votes
behind.

That
would
leave
about
a
dozen
to
15
Republicans
up
in
the
air,
almost
all
of
whom
come
from
the
wing
that
voted
against
extending
McConnell’s
leadership
run
after
the
2022
elections.
If
this
group
worked
together,
they
could
back
Barrasso
on
a
first
ballot
and
possibly
leave
both
Thune
and
Cornyn
short
of
the
majority,
while
trying
to
extract
concessions
from
either
of
the
top
two
to
tip
the
balance
on
a
second
ballot.

“There
are
lots
of
conversations
that
are
ongoing
between
all
sorts
of
different
collections
of
senators,”
Sen.
Ted
Cruz
(R-Tex.)
told
reporters.

For
Democrats,
McConnell’s
departure
marks
a
strange
twist.
Sen.
Chris
Coons
(D-Del.),
who
won
election
in
2010,
spent
his
first
couple
years
marveling
at
how
strong
McConnell’s
leadership
team
remained
despite
renegades
such
as
Cruz
and
Sen.
Rand
Paul
(R-Ky.)
in
his
ranks.

Paul
had
defeated
a
top
McConnell
acolyte
in
2010,
and
Cruz
knocked
off
a
close
Cornyn
ally
when
he
chaired
the
National
Republican
Senatorial
Committee.

“He
managed
to
hold
his
caucus
together.
He
managed
to
deliver
on
some
of
their
core
goals,
in
particular,
capturing
the
Supreme
Court
and
moving
it
far
to
the
right,”
Coons
said,
noting
three
conservative
justices
appointed
under
McConnell’s
watch.

But
Coons
noted
how
much
the
GOP
changed
with
each
election,
pointing
to
Tennessee’s
swaps
of
two
establishment
Republicans,
who
were
very
close
to
McConnell,
for
two
firebrands.

“There’s
been
a
steady
movement
toward
younger
members
of
the
Republican
caucus
who
do
not
value
and
support
compromise
and
bipartisanship
and
respect
for
leadership,”
he
said.

Rather
than
the
bitter
enemy
they
spoke
of
with
anger
and
fury
last
decade,
Democrats
have
recently
appreciated
McConnell’s
help
averting
calamities
such
as
government
funding
shutdowns
or
defaults
on
the
national
debt.

Just
Tuesday,
after
a
White
House
meeting
with
President
Biden
and
congressional
leaders,
Senate
Majority
Leader
Charles
E.
Schumer
(D-N.Y.)
repeatedly
praised
McConnell
for
his
strong
words
in
support
of
Ukraine.

It’s
the
sort
of
thing
that
far-right
Republicans
despise.
One
antagonist,
Sen.
Mike
Lee
(R-Utah),

used
his
increasingly
conspiratorial-driven
social
media

accounts
to
talk
about
“The
Firm”
when
criticizing
McConnell
and
Schumer.

The
ultimate
wild
card
would
be
if
Trump
wins
the
presidency
and
wants
to
try
to
force
GOP
senators
to
elect
someone
he
is
most
comfortable
with.

That
would
benefit
Barrasso,
or
some
other
wild-card
contender,
because
Trump
used
to
frequently
criticize
Thune
for
his
lack
of
forceful
support.
Cornyn’s
political
sins,
to
the
most
conservative
senators,
came
by
working
with
Democrats
on
modest
gun-violence
legislation
in
2022
and
a
bill
to
expand
U.S.
manufacturing
of
electronic
chips.

While
senators
have
traditionally
guarded
these
leadership
posts
against
such
outside
interference,
one
notable
exception
came
after
the
2002
midterm
elections.
George
W.
Bush’s
presidential
advisers
helped
push
Trent
Lott
(R-Miss.)
out
of
his
expected
ascension
to
majority
leader
after
he
made
comments
in
support
of
Sen.
Strom
Thurmond
(R-S.C.),
an
avowed
segregationist,
at
his
100th
birthday
party.

Instead,
Republicans
elected
Bill
Frist
(R-Tenn.),
just
eight
years
as
a
senator
to
that
point,
as
majority
leader.
Frist’s
four-year
tenure
as
leader
came
with
lots
of
discussion
about
his
own
ambition
to
run
for
president
in
2008,
a
rocky
path
in
which
the
relative
newcomer
struggled.
He
eventually
retired
from
politics
altogether.

Veteran
Republicans
believe
those
aspirants
to
McConnell’s
job,
above
all
else,
need
to
swear
off
any
ambition
beyond
the
Senate.

“They
better
be
doing
it
for
the
right
reasons,
not
for
their
own
political
advancement,”
Sen.
Lisa
Murkowski
(R-Alaska)
said.
“McConnell
never
did
any
of
this
for
his
political
advancement.”

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