During an appearance on Fox News earlier this week, Dr. Mehmet Oz was asked a simple question: If he was elected to the US Senate from Pennsylvania and Republicans take the majority this fall, would he support Mitch McConnell for leader?
“I look forward to being in the United States Senate and [am] happy to make that decision for the next leader of the United States Senate … it will be Republican,” said Oz, not answering the question. Pressed for an answer, Oz refused to give one.
Which is interesting! Because Oz is far from alone in his unwillingness among Republican Senate aspirants to express fealty for McConnell if the GOP winds up winning control of the Senate in the midterm elections.
“When I defeat Murkowski and become Alaska’s next U.S. senator, I will not support Mitch McConnell as leader. It’s time for new, America First leadership in the Senate,” Kelly Tshibaka, a Republican who is among the candidates taking on GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski, said last year.
Arizona Republican Senate nominee Blake Masters said in a debate earlier this year that McConnell is “not bad at everything. He’s good at judges. He’s good at blocking Democrats. You know what he’s not good at? Legislating.”
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is the GOP nominee for the state’s open Senate seat, said of McConnell this past summer: “Mitch McConnell hasn’t endorsed me and I don’t endorse him for leadership.”
And Ohio GOP Senate nominee J.D. Vance has previously said McConnell is “a little out of touch with the base” and that there is a need for “new blood” in the ranks of Republican leadership.
All of which raises an important question: If Republicans do win the Senate majority, will McConnell have the votes to be elected to lead them?
Which is, yes, a bit of putting the cart in front of the horse. At the moment, the fight for Senate control is widely regarded as a toss-up, with Democrats seen as having the edge in money and candidate quality. And if the likes of Oz, Masters and Vance don’t make it to the Senate, then it doesn’t much matter whether they would have voted for McConnell as leader or not.
But if these candidates do wind up winning, then they will be forced to confront their past statements in regards to McConnell.
And, of course, there’s Donald Trump. The former President has made no secret of his dislike of McConnell and has openly campaigned for some other Republican to take him on as leader. But so far, there have been no takers.
Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who runs the Senate GOP campaign committee, has repeatedly butted heads with McConnell – first over his decision to release a policy plan outlining what Republicans would do if they won the majority and, more recently, over McConnell’s comments that “candidate quality” are hindering the party’s chances.
In an op-ed published in the Washington Examiner last week, Scott seemed to be speaking directly to McConnell.
“Unfortunately, many of the very people responsible for losing the Senate last cycle are now trying to stop us from winning the majority this time by trash-talking our Republican candidates,” wrote Scott. “It’s an amazing act of cowardice, and ultimately, it’s treasonous to the conservative cause.”
My strong sense is that for all of the talk about their differences with McConnell, the likes of Oz, Masters and Vance would find a way to vote for him as majority leader if they were confronted with the opportunity in early 2023. Why? For two main reasons:
1) A fair amount of what they were (and are) doing is political posturing. Trump doesn’t like McConnell. So, especially during their primaries, these candidates had to keep the MAGA crowd happy – and wavering on support for McConnell was a way to do that. Now that they are party nominees, you are already seeing some slinking back to McConnell.
2) It’s not clear they would have any other options. Scott seems far more focused on running for president than he does on running for leader of the Senate Republicans. And the other Senate Republicans who have a constituency in the conference – like, say, John Thune of South Dakota – are not going to challenge McConnell.
So, in the end, this is all likely just political posturing. But McConnell, ever the deliberate and careful political tactician, is likely not taking any chances.