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Mitch McConnell’s Prized Senate Leader Post Is Up For Grabs. Will Americans Be Stuck With Another RINO?

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On May 22ndPolitico reported that Florida Sen. Rick Scott launched a bid to replace Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell as the Senate Republican Leader.

Scott is also running for re-election for another six-year term in Florida in 2024. The Florida Republican is up against Republican Sens. John Thune and John Cornyn for the position of Senate Republican Leader. Thune is the current Senate Republican Whip. Cornyn held that job for six years before stepping down due to term limits and chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), the campaign arm tasked with electing Senate Republicans.

In his May 22nd letter to his Senate Republican colleagues announcing his bid, Scott tried to position himself as the outsider candidate pushing for change by trying to appeal to his frustrated colleagues looking to “upend the status quo.”

Scott wrote: “There have been far too many backroom deals cut in secret, rarely do things go through the committee process, and it’s accepted practice to not allow amendment votes to trillion-dollar spending bills. We are routinely surprised with legislation and asked to vote on it without having had any input or even time to review it. Rarely do we work in concert with Republicans in the House, and the Senate far too often passes legislation that is supported by 100% of the Democrats, and only a quarter of our Republican Conference.”

Scott promised to be more inclusive and serve a self-imposed six-year term limit. He also intimated that he had a closer relationship with Donald Trump, the party’s presidential nominee, as both Thune and Cornyn have sometimes diverged from the former president and 2024 Republican presidential nominee tactically, legislatively, or rhetorically.

Both Thune and Cornyn are allies of 82-year-old McConnell, who said he would step down from his position after Election Day in November. Recall that Scott, who ran the NRSC in 2022, sparred with McConnell over who was to blame for Republican underperformance in that election cycle when the party suffered a net loss of one seat.

McConnell criticized Scott for developing a policy proposal that allowed Biden and Democrats to attack by suggesting that Republicans would cut benefits for older voters. Scott countered that McConnell’s failure to support Republican candidates contributed to Republican underperformance, particularly his comments about “candidate quality” and a lack of vision.

The Hill reported that Trump urged Scott to challenge McConnell to become the leader two years ago, but he lost the largely symbolic protest vote 36-10.

However, as Politico noted, Scott won the backing of the conference’s most conservative members and will likely have some of those members’ support again this time. Scott may see a political opening where Thune and Cornyn divide the establishment vote.

Whether Scott’s bid to replace McConnell is symbolic or serious is unclear.

Unlike the vote for speaker in the House, which is public, the vote for Senate Republican Leader is private. This means there is less public pressure on senators.

The fact that McConnell intends to step down after the election suggests that Donald Trump will have considerable sway over who McConnell’s successor will be. A Trump victory will make it more likely that someone in the MAGA mold will be the new Republican Senate Leader.

If Republicans pick up Senate seats during the 2024 election, many newly elected senators will likely support a Trump-endorsed replacement.

Conversely, if Trump does not win the election, that may accelerate a pivot away from Trumpism and a desire for someone in the more traditional Republican mold that might favor Thune or Cornyn. Axios reported that Trump has encouraged current NRSC chair, Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines to run for the position.

So, if Republicans decidedly take back the chamber in November, it will position Daines well.

Republicans have a favorable Senate map in 2024, where they are forced to defend 11 seats compared with 23 for Democrats. The Senate is currently divided 51-49.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin decided he would not run rather than lose his re-election bid, which means Republicans are expected to gain at least one seat to get to 50.

Republicans also like their chances to flip Senate seats in Ohio and Montana, states that Trump won in 2016 and 2020. Democratic incumbent Sens. Sherrod Brown  and Jon Tester arguably benefited from having more favorable political environments in 2012 because of Obama’s re-election and 2018 because of Trump’s midterm than they will have in 2024.

In addition, the last two presidential election cycles have only seen one instance of ticket-splitting (Maine 2020), where voters elected a senator from one political party and a president from the other.

While polls show Democratic senate candidates polling ahead of Biden, their ability to run double-digits ahead of the current president may be needed to hold on to Ohio and Montana, where Trump is likely to win easily.

Suppose Donald Trump becomes president and Rick Scott becomes the Senate Republican Leader. In that case, Trump will have a greater ally in the role, enabling him to pursue a more ambitious agenda. If Trump is re-elected, then the House will also likely be Republican-controlled as well.

Unified control of power in Washington produces a legislative risk-on scenario for investors. Regardless of the power share composition, whoever is in the White House must work with Congress to address the portions of the Trump tax bill that expire at the end of 2025.

A unified Republican control scenario could create a condition where cuts are extended and expanded in certain areas, particularly on the corporate side. Whether bond markets allow Trump and Republicans to pursue such a measure would be important to watch as investor concern grows over the deteriorating fiscal outlook.

Trump will try to assuage concerns by arguing that tariff revenue will offset any additional deficit-financed tax cut.

On May 28thPunchbowl News reported that Thune and Cornyn pledged to uphold the 60-vote filibuster requirement in the Senate if either becomes the majority leader. Even if Trump calls for Senate Republicans to remove the 60-vote threshold, it seems likely that there will be enough votes to resist such a move.

This means that even under unified power, Republicans will still need to work within the confines of the budget reconciliation process to pass party-line bills.

Steve Pavlick is a Partner & Head of Policy at Renaissance Macro and a former Treasury official.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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