Sen. Rick Scott challenged the certification of Donald Trump’s reelection loss, bashed Trump’s second impeachment trial and recently spoke with the former president about Senate races. But don’t take that as the Florida Republican siding with Trump over Mitch McConnell.
In fact, the National Republican Senatorial Committee chair said he “absolutely” supports McConnell as Senate Republican leader. He gave no oxygen to Trump’s trashing of McConnell as someone who “doesn’t have what it takes” following the GOP leader’s withering criticism of Trump’s lack of leadership during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
“I’m not going to get involved in that. My job as chair of the NRSC is just to focus on recruiting candidates and raising money,” Scott said on Monday afternoon. He said he told Trump he wants to win Senate races next year.
The crumbled alliance between Trump and McConnell, who worked hand-in-glove on political and legislative strategy for four years, has finally brought the GOP to the reckoning that never happened after the 2016 election. Trump may take another swipe at McConnell in the coming days at the Conservative Political Action Conference. But McConnell probably won’t hear it: He is not expected to speak at CPAC, according to Republican sources. McConnell still hasn’t spoken to Trump in more than two months.
And interviews with nearly a dozen Senate Republicans on Monday night make clear that it will take more than a war of words with Trump to knock McConnell off his perch. Both Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), the two most likely successors to McConnell at the moment, back him vocally.
“Sen. McConnell’s been the best Republican leader since I’ve been here. He understands this place better than anybody,” Cornyn said. “I believe he enjoys the overwhelming support of the conference.”
Asked if he agreed with McConnell’s criticisms of Trump, Cornyn said: “I’m looking forward to the day we can move on to other things.” He said he had no plans to visit Trump in Florida, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy have done in recent days.
Many senators have little interest in refereeing McConnell’s seething comments about Trump’s “dereliction of duty” during last month’s insurrection and Trump’s brutal assessment of McConnell’s “lack of political insight, wisdom, skill, and personality.” But few share the assessment by Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Graham that McConnell’s criticism of Trump has become a political anchor weighing on the GOP.
“Republicans have a big tent,” said Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.). “There’s strength in having robust discussions. There’s strength in having differences of opinion. And politicians are always going to have back-and-forth.”
“I support [McConnell]. I support the outsider part of the party, as well,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “The biggest disaster would be if we split in some fashion. It’s exactly what the Democrats would be looking for. And most of us are going to let time be our friend.”