GOP nominees question Mitch McConnell as party’s Senate leader

Democrats have spent much of the year hitting Republican Sen. Rick Scott’s proposed tax increases as if it were a piñata. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly said the Floridian’s plan is irrelevant.

“If we’re fortunate enough to have the [Senate] majority next year,” McConnell told reporters in early March, “I’ll be the majority leader.”

But what if he’s not?

On Capitol Hill, the Kentucky Republican’s support among his own members appears to be fairly strong, though there are exceptions. Sen. Lindsey Graham, for example, suggested months ago that if McConnell intends to be the GOP leader in the next Congress, he’ll have to do more to align himself with Donald Trump.

The concern for McConnell, however, is less about what his current members think and more about what his future members think. The Associated Press published this report last week, ahead of Tuesday’s primaries.

As the US Senate primary campaign nears its end in Missouri, all three leading Republican candidates are making it clear that if elected, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t have their support…. [Missouri Attorney General Eric] Schmitt, speaking Wednesday in Columbia, said McConnell hasn’t endorsed him, “and I don’t endorse him for leadership,” KOMU-TV reported.

At the same event, Schmitt told reporters, “I think we need new leadership. Mitch McConnell was elected to the Senate in 1984, and the party’s priorities have changed pretty dramatically, and I don’t think he’s kept up with that.”

The state attorney general soon after easily won his Republican primary and is now favored to win the Senate seat.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, GOP Senate hopeful Blake Masters said in May that he wants to “remake” the Republican Party, adding that he hoped to vote for a “viable alternative” to McConnell as the party’s leader in the chamber. In an interview with NBC News last week, Masters was asked whether he’d vote for McConnell. “I mean, we’ll see,” I replied. “We’ll see.”

Soon after, Masters won his Senate primary with relative ease, too.

There’s also Alaska’s Kelly Tshibaka, running for the Senate with Trump’s backing, who’s said she doesn’t intend to support McConnell as the party’s leader in the chamber, either.

At this point, McConnell probably isn’t too concerned. After all, no one has said they intend to run against him for the position. The Kentuckian should still be seen as the favorite to lead Senate Republicans next year, whether the party is in the majority or not.

But the signs of potential trouble are not irrelevant. Indeed, not only are some would-be GOP senators balking at support for McConnell, but Rick Scott notably declined to comment in June when asked if he’d commit to supporting McConnell as party leader in the next Congress.

It’s against this backdrop that Trump continues to treat the current Senate minority leader as a villain. In fact, it was just two weeks ago when the former president condemned McConnell as a “disloyal sleazebag.”

What will happen if Trump demands that Senate Republicans elect a different leader, and at least some of the newest GOP senator withhold their support from McConnell? Watch this space.

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