Former President Donald Trump is calling on his allies in the Senate, GOP sources tell CNN, making a suggestion to shift blame for — the Republicans’ lackluster performance over the medium term: target Mitch McConnell.
Trump, who has faced sharp criticism from within his own party for hurting Republican candidates in the midterm elections, has instead sought to stir up opposition to McConnell ahead of next week’s leadership election — even as the GOP has leader has already closed enough support to win two more years, making him the longest-serving Senate party leader in US history.
Still, McConnell faces fresh disagreements within the ranks as a faction of Senate Republicans internally grumbles about the timing of next week’s leadership election and is now asking for a postponement — something several GOP sources and a member of the Republican leadership have indicated is unlikely to happen.
The internal gossip has sparked another round of fears that Republicans will disagree over their future and damage their ability to unite before the Dec. 6 runoff for the US Senate seat in Georgia. Some Trump allies fear his obsession with the Kentucky Republican will only undermine their campaign in Georgia, with memories still raw for many in the party blaming the former president for giving them two seats and the Senate majority. cost during last year’s runoff in the Peach State.
But privately, Trump is trying to direct the GOP’s anger at McConnell.
In telephone conversations with allies, elected officials and incoming members of Congress, former President McConnell has accused McConnell of reckless spending in states where Republicans have faced significant headwinds at the expense of candidates in more competitive competitions. He and his aides have specifically alluded to the Alaska Senate race, where the McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund spent more than $5 million attacking a Trump-backed Republican challenger to incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski. That candidate, Kelly Tshibaka, looks set to advance to a ranked second round against Murkowski on Nov. 23.
Trump was extremely critical of McConnell’s decision to cut support for the Arizona Senate hopeful Blake Masters over the summer, an aide noted. According to the latest CNN data, Masters is currently following incumbent Senator Mark Kelly by more than 100,000 votes, with 80% of the votes counted.
Sources said Trump has conveyed these frustrations to nearly everyone he has spoken to since Tuesday, in hopes it will translate into an onslaught of public criticism of McConnell.
“He’s not asking explicit questions, but he wants more Republicans to hold Mitch accountable,” said a second person close to Trump.
McConnell’s office declined to comment on CNN for this story.
But it was McConnell’s super PAC, which was the biggest spender in all senate races in both sides — along with the affiliated nonprofit group, he dropped more than $280 million in ads. Trump’s outside group spent a small portion of that on Senate racing.
At the Arizona race, McConnell told CNN last month that he and the major GOP donor, Peter Thiel, had a discussion about “resource allocation” as other outside groups began to support the Masters. In addition, it was McConnell’s group that poured about $30 million into Ohio to bolster Trump-backed candidate JD Vance, who struggled with Democratic Representative Tim Ryan but ultimately won convincingly.
Steven Law, the head of the Senate leadership fund, told CNN that the group was trying to put a joint focus on Biden and Democrats this cycle. But he suggested that Trump’s rise on the campaign trail helped Democrats late in the cycle.
“Keeping the focus on Joe Biden and the Democrats who voted for inflationary spending and softly supported crime policies are the priorities,” Law said. “And to the extent that there’s any distraction from that, it diminishes our ability to bring that argument home.”
Republicans in the Senate next week are set for a tense series of meetings. They are expected to meet behind closed doors next Tuesday for their first face-to-face meeting since the midterms.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is calling for the leadership election to be postponed, believes Republicans should first have a discussion about “why the results were what they were and what we are going to do about it,” a Rubio adviser said. . The adviser said Trump has not encouraged Rubio to make the public plea for a delay.
“First, we must ensure that those who want to lead us are genuinely committed to fighting for the priorities and values of the working Americans (of every background) who have brought us great victories in states like Florida,” Rubio tweeted.
sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri who opposes McConnell’s leadership bid, also tweeted that Republicans must postpone the election so as not to “disenfranchise” Herschel Walker, who is running in the Georgia runoff election that will take place after the election.
And three GOP senators—Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Rick Scott of Florida, and Mike Lee of Utah—sent a letter urging members of the GOP conference to postpone leadership elections scheduled for Wednesday, adding to the frustration of Republicans from the United States. the Senate on the outcome of the 2022 elections.
“We are all disappointed that a Red Wave has not happened, and there are several reasons why it has not,” the letter said. “We need to have serious discussions within our conference about why and what we can do to improve our chances in 2024.”
Despite pressure to delay, Wyoming Senator John Barrasso said the leadership election will go ahead as planned.
“We look forward to meeting our new and returning members next week. I expect a full and open discussion starting at Tuesday’s policy lunch on our way forward. We will meet again on Wednesday for our scheduled election conference,” Barrasso, who oversees the leadership election, said in a conference message obtained by CNN.
“I welcome the questions and comments in the letter distributed by Senators Rick Scott, Lee and Johnson,” he wrote.
While the road to a Republican majority is narrow, Johnson and Lee won their reelection races in 2022. Scott now leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of the Senate GOP.
Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn supports Johnson for the number 4 spot, chair of the Republican Policy Committee, according to her spokesperson.
“Someone suggested I run. I didn’t reject the idea and then the rumors started circulating,” Johnson told CNN about a possible leadership offer. “My primary goal is to have robust and organized discussions within the conference before any leadership election and to develop a more collaborative model for the conference.”
But McConnell allies say delaying an election where the GOP leader is not challenged will only deepen internal divisions.
“We must move on,” said a GOP Senate source. “McConnell will win.”