If Republicans capture the Senate–which seems increasingly likely–the next showdown could be between Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell.
The 45th president is on a vendetta to depose the Senate Republican leader, attacking the Kentucky senator as a “RINO,” or “Republican in name only.” Trump even attacked McConnell’s wife, his former transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, as Coco Chow.
McConnell was more subtle–not surprisingly–noting that “candidate quality” could prevent Republicans from winning control of the Senate.
It was a reference to Trump-endorsed candidates such as Blake Masters in Arizona, J.D. Vance in Ohio, Herschel Walker in Georgia, Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, and Don Bolduc in New Hampshire.
However, McConnell’s subtlety could be more consequential.
Republicans vs. MAGA
It’s likely true that other Republican primary candidates would have been much stronger nominees in a battleground general election. However, even some non-conventional candidates now appear to be potential victors.
Trump generally insisted primary candidates prove they were MAGA by expressing doubts about the legitimacy of the 2020 election and defined “RINO” not based on policy or ideological matters but on whether the candidate said nice things about Trump.
McConnell, by contrast, like most party leaders, has stuck with the view of “electability,” which has often been a pitfall for leadership in both parties.
If the MAGA nominees win, and Republicans retake the Senate majority, Trump will use what clout he has in the Republican Party to demand McConnell be ousted.
But McConnell has been around much longer than the Donald and has more IOUs with Senate Republicans. He knows Washington better and has strong survival instincts.
Setting Up for a Trump Campaign
Looking ahead to presidential politics, if most of these Trump-backed Senate candidates are victorious, it could increase the glide path for Trump to be the 2024 nomination.
The rift is somewhat odd. Trump’s presidency would not have been nearly as consequential if not for McConnell. Moreover, had McConnell not blocked Merrick Garland from the Supreme Court, Trump may not have won in 2016. It was the open Supreme Court seat that encouraged many cautious conservative voters to suck it up and vote for Trump who might have otherwise stayed home or cast a protest vote.
Conversely, it’s not a guarantee that Republicans will win the majority. That could be a problem for both McConnell and Trump–but a bigger one for Trump.
If several Trump-endorsed Senate candidates lose, preventing a majority, the former president may try to claim credit for a new House majority. But the House majority is so widely expected, that would be a tough sell.
Instead, Trump would be blamed and that will impact his hopes for the 2024 GOP nomination. Coming up short in the Senate next week–after 2018 and 2020–would be the third consecutive election the GOP loses because of the Donald. Would party voters take a fourth chance?
Many questions will be answered on Nov. 8. But much of the real drama might begin after Election Day.
Fred Lucas is chief news correspondent and manager of the Investigative Reporting Project for The Daily Signal. Lucas is also the author of “Abuse of Power: Inside The Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump.” This first appeared in the Daily Signal.