Senate Republican candidates remain increasingly reluctant to back Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for Senate Majority Leader.
The Hill asked nearly two dozen Senate GOP candidates if they would support McConnell as the Senate’s leader if elected, but not one candidate said that they would openly back McConnell. The Hill’s revelation details the ongoing war between the Republican establishment and the conservative and populist grassroots, led by former White House chief strategist and Breitbart News executive chairman Steve Bannon.
One top aide to a GOP Senate campaign said that Senate candidates have to walk a tightrope between the establishment and the conservative grassroots.
“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,” the aide told the Hill. “Now Republican voters want to burn the place down, so you have more of a tightrope.”
Ohio Senate GOP hopeful Mike Gibbons called on Josh Mandel, another Ohio Senate Republican candidate, to sign his petition demanding that McConnell resigns from his post. Mandel received millions of dollars from the McConnell-aligned organization American Crossroads GPS for his 2012 Senate bid, ducked a question as to whether he would back the Majority Leader.
“Just like we would expect from the career politician that he is, Josh is refusing to take a position,” Gibbons said.
Missouri Senate Republican candidate Austin Peterson attacked fellow Republican candidate Attorney General Josh Hawley for refusing to say whether he would endorse Mitch McConnell.
Peterson said, “Hawley refuses to say whether he will support him. That’s playing politics. I said two months ago I would not support McConnell and I had everything to lose when I did that.”
Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff, said that Hawley was one of the establishment Republicans’ first choices in the 2018 midterm election.
“He was our No. 1 recruit of the cycle,” Holmes charged. “We worked our tail off to recruit Josh Hawley.”
Now, McConnell’s top recruit, Josh Hawley, will not commit to voting for Mitch McConnell if elected to the Senate in 2018. Hawley’s spokesman, Scott Paradise, responded in an email questioning whether Hawley would back the McConnell.
“The Senate is broken and failing the people of Missouri,” Paradise wrote.
“Josh is running because he is not willing to tolerate the failure of the D.C. establishment any longer,” Paradise added. “He won’t tolerate Claire McCaskill’s failure. And he won’t tolerate Republican failure, either.”
President Donald Trump told reporters recently that he understands Bannon’s frustration with Senate Republicans.
Arizona Senate candidate Kelli Ward and Nevada Senate candidate Danny Tarkanian demanded that Mitch McConnell step down from his post as Majority Leader as they hope to unseat incumbents Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Dean Heller (R-NV).
Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who won his September primary runoff against Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL), even after the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership dumped millions into the race to oppose Roy Moore.
Wisconsin’s Kevin Nicholson and Pennsylvania’s Jeff Bartos argued that Senate need a change in leadership. A spokesperson for Nicholson said, “He’s prepared to support new leadership because to the Senate’s failure to pass a conservative agenda.” Bartos argued that he’d tie his vote to whether McConnell could “deliver for the people who support the president’s agenda.”
Not all Republican candidates for the Senate have given up their support for the Senate Majority Leader. Congressman Evan Jenkin’s (R-WV) told Politico in August that he supports McConnell as the Majority Leader, and Montana state auditor Matt Rosendale told the Politico that Mcconnell’s status as the leader of the Senate “is not in question.”
In Karl Rove’s oped for the Wall Street, he called Bannon’s war against the Republican establishment, a “jihad” and proceeded to attack Republican candidates such as Kelli Ward, Danny Tarkanian, and Roy Moore. Rove called these candidates part of Bannon’s “collection of misfits and ne’er-do-wells.”
Holmes contends Republican primary voters do not care about Senate leadership races, they only care about jobs, even though under McConnell Republicans failed to repeal Obamacare twice, confirm nearly 200 Trump executive and judicial nominees, and fund the southern border wall nearly 11 months into President Donald Trump’s time in office.
Holmes claimed, “Voters don’t have an ounce of interest in who wins a prospective leadership race, they care about jobs. This is nothing more than a vanity project for Steve Bannon and, like all vanity projects, it will go about as far as you can throw a thousand-pound stone. Bannon doesn’t have a movement behind him. The president does and without President Trump, Bannon is a nobody.”
FreedomWorks president Adam Brandon argued that primary voters do in fact care about leadership elections.
Brandon said, “Of course primary voters care about leadership elections. They’ve seen failed leadership in the Senate for years and want to see the member they vote for be able to enact the agenda they ran on.”
Andy Surabian, a former White House adviser and now a senior adviser to the pro-Trump super PAC Great America Alliance, said, “No amount of smearing can change the fact that not a single U.S. Senate candidate was willing to go on the record and say that they supported Mitch McConnell for Majority Leader. Everyone can see right through the clearly desperate, unfounded and pathetic attacks coming from McConnell Incorporated.”