News & Politics

No GOP Senate Candidate Would Support McConnell for Leader if Elected

No GOP Senate Candidate Would Support McConnell for Leader if Elected
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

I would say this is writing on the wall for Mitch McConnell…in great, big red letters.

The Hill asked nearly two dozen GOP Senate candidates if they would support McConnell for majority leader if they were elected. Not one campaign said they would.

Several candidates declared their opposition to McConnell and attacked their GOP primary opponents for not taking a stance on the question. Other candidates deflected, or spoke on background about the bind they’re in over the question of McConnell’s leadership. Most candidates were eager to avoid the question entirely, and ignored multiple requests for comment.

The candidate survey underscores the tricky balancing act facing Republican Senate candidates in 2018, which is shaping up to be a proxy war between the party establishment and its grassroots base.

Times have changed and McConnell isn’t changing with them.

“Ten years ago when you ran campaigns, especially after 9/11, it was all about leadership. You could talk about your role in Congress in making things better,” one top aide to a GOP Senate campaign told The Hill.  “Now Republican voters want to burn the place down, so you have more of a tightrope.”

In primary races in Ohio and Missouri, candidates with crossover appeal between the grassroots and the establishment have both declined to endorse McConnell but are under fire from their Republican opponents nonetheless.

There are very few candidates who can truly bridge that chasm and still have the trust of both sides. And support for or opposition to McConnell appears to be the major litmus test for candidates.

GOP Senate hopeful Mike Gibbons is calling on state Treasurer Josh Mandel, the favorite in the race, to sign his petition demanding that McConnell retire.

Mandel, who received millions of dollars in outside support from the McConnell-aligned group American Crossroads GPS for his failed 2012 bid, ducked the question at a press conference this week and told reporters he’d address it when elected.

“Just like we would expect from the career politician that he is, Josh is refusing to take a position,” Gibbons said in a statement to The Hill.

Mandel’s campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.

No such thing as loyalty in politics if you can win an election.

In Missouri, Austin Petersen, who is running against state Attorney General Josh Hawley, the favorite, is similarly on the attack. Hawley has dodged the question of whether he would support McConnell, even as Rove publicly boasts about how he and McConnell recruited Hawley to get into the race.

“Hawley refuses to say whether he’ll support him,” Petersen told The Hill. “That’s playing politics. I said two months ago I wouldn’t support McConnell and I had everything to lose when I did that.”

Under ordinary circumstances, you might suggest to McConnell that he start packing and start looking for one of those lucrative lobbying jobs ex-lawmakers like to take.

But the dilemma facing the renegades in the Senate is the same problem facing rebel House members who would dearly love to see Paul Ryan take a hike. Who will replace them.

The GOP is so fractured that despite their clear unpopularity, no single candidate has emerged in either body to be a favorite to replace them.

What might be different come January 2018, when a new leadership election is held, is that strong allies for both Ryan and McConnell are retiring. The speaker seems to be in fairly safe position. But McConnell will be in deep trouble. A swing of just a few votes may make some other senator majority leader.

He’s certainly not getting any love from the current batch of GOP candidates.


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