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McConnell Will Step Down as Party Leader in November

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is the longest-serving leader in the Senate ever, having overtaken Mike Mansfield in Jan. 2023. Yesterday, he announced that he will stay in the upper chamber until his Senate term runs out on Jan. 3, 2027, but will be an ordinary backbencher starting in November of this year.

McConnell's aides said his decision was unrelated to his health, but we don't believe that for a second. The Republicans have at least a 50-50 shot at controlling the Senate in January, in which case McConnell would be almost certain to be majority leader, a position he has held before and covets very much. Why would he make himself a lame duck when he is on the cusp of returning to power? If Joe Biden is reelected and the Democrats capture the House, then as Senate majority leader, he would be the most powerful Republican in the country. McConnell is not someone to shirk that kind of power. He fell last year and suffered a concussion and has frozen up in public several times, probably due to TIAs. He turned 82 last week and may well have other medical conditions he hasn't disclosed. His wife's younger sister died last week, but we doubt that is sufficient reason to give up so much power.

Another reason we suspect McConnell has some undisclosed reason for giving up his leadership post is that he hates the direction Donald Trump is taking his beloved Republican Party. If Trump wins and McConnell were majority leader, he could thwart Trump in many ways. For example, when Trump nominated an incompetent flunky for a (sub)cabinet, agency, or judicial position, McConnell could simply refuse to hold a vote, or at least vote against confirmation and try to bring a few more Republicans with him along with all the Democrats. This would force Trump to nominate people who were at least marginally competent. McConnell also supports NATO, hates Russia, and wants to help Ukraine. As majority leader, he could write a bill with funds for a border wall, funds for Ukraine, and a big tax cut for millionaires and tell Trump: "Take it or leave it. It's all or nothing. If you veto it, you don't get a border wall." There is a long list of things McConnell could do to advance his policy goals in both a Biden administration and a Trump administration. If he felt he could herd the cats for 2 more years until his likely retirement from the Senate in Jan. 2027, he would hang in there.

McConnell will be replaced by a vote of the new Republican caucus in December, but the jockeying for position began yesterday in a serious way. It could determine the future of the Republican Party, no matter who is elected president. The new leader will probably be named John, and not just because that is a common name. The top contenders are Senate Republican Whip John Thune (R-SD), Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Barraso (R-WY), and former Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX). Sens. John Boozman (R-AR), John Kennedy (R-LA), and John Hoeven (R-ND) are not likely to try out, even though they passed the John test, and Sens. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and John Fetterman (D-PA) are Democrats. Ten percent of the male senators are named John. The presence of so many Johns in the upper chamber helps explain why the Senate is so often full of sh*t.

The Three Johns in the running have different degrees of MAGAosity. Thune is considered a friendly guy but just got around to endorsing Trump last Sunday. He doesn't mean it. He originally endorsed his Senate colleague Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). He doesn't like Trump and would be like a younger version of McConnell. He would recruit Senate candidates who could win, without regard to their Trumpiness. Barraso is completely in the tank for Trump and would de facto allow Trump to run the Senate. He would rarely, if ever, block Trump nominations for anything. Did you expect anything else from a guy from Wyoming? Cornyn is in between the two.

Theoretically, Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) could try for the top job again, but he was swatted down last time he tried because he is a serious contender for the least popular senator in the GOP caucus, not an easy feat when competing with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Also, if Scott barely wins reelection this year, that will label him as a weak leader. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) said he thinks there will be 8-10 candidates. He played college football and clearly got banged in the head one time too many. There will not be 8 serious candidates. Maybe four or five at most, but probably just the three Johns.

Each of the three Johns has supporters in the Senate and the arm-twisting will probably go on for months, especially if none of them can corral a majority easily and if McConnell stays out of it, even behind the scenes. Most senators are being very cagey now, although Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH) did admit that he supported "John." Not that many senators are very Trumpy and since the election is by secret ballot, we think Thune is likely the favorite, with Cornyn in second place, but the sausage-making will be fierce, albeit under wraps. (V)

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