Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell may have defeated Florida Sen. Rick Scott in the November leadership elections, but not before 10 Republicans voted against the Kentucky Republican. Now, some of those defectors are preparing for retribution for siding with Scott, The Daily Signal has learned.
McConnell has said he is “not in any way offended by having an opponent or having a few votes in opposition.”
But some Republicans believe this is merely his public-facing posture: During last week’s internal GOP meetings, lawmakers discussed the likelihood that McConnell would retaliate against both Scott and those who supported him, a person who was in the room told The Daily Signal.
Already, Scott and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have endured the wrath of McConnell’s former chief of staff.
The Daily Signal’s source, who asked not to be named, suggested others would face a similar fate, wondering how long it will take the Senate minority leader to begin plotting revenge against those who opposed him. McConnell’s allies have a known pattern of pitching hit pieces or making critical comments of those in the GOP conference who get in his way or annoy him, the person said.
The Daily Signal did not receive a direct response from McConnell. In the past, however, McConnell has vowed not to hold grudges. “We don’t have any dog houses here,” McConnell said when asked in 2020 if Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah would be punished for voting to impeach President Donald Trump. “The most important vote is the next vote.”
Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Braun of Indiana, and Graham were among the 10 who voted for Scott over McConnell. Sen.-elect Eric Schmitt of Missouri previously said he would oppose McConnell. Other senators have not publicly stated their support for Scott.
Retaliating against Republicans at this point in the game would signal McConnell had not learned from the recent GOP chastisement, Rachel Bovard, senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute, suggested.
Bovard shared that McConnell has a history of targeting opponents by feeding the Republican rumor mill through his “network of surrogates,” which she jokingly called the “McConnell cartel.”
“He’s never the one to be public about these things,” Bovard said.
During remarks made at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual leadership conference at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Scott himself accused Washington Republicans of merely responding to Democratic extremism rather than laying out a coherent Republican plan of “what we are for and what we will do.”
“If you dare step out of line and suggest we give people something to vote on, guess what?” he asked. “They attack you, they partner with the Democrats to criticize you, they misrepresent what you say.”
In recent days, Josh Holmes, McConnell’s former chief of staff and campaign manager who heads the firm Cavalry LLC, publicly attacked Scott and Graham. He lashed out at Scott’s leadership of the National Republican Senatorial Committee when the Florida Republican called for delaying the GOP leadership elections until after the Dec. 6 runoff in Georgia.
Of the NRSC, Holmes told The Wall Street Journal: “It was run basically as a Rick Scott super PAC, where they didn’t want or need to input any Republican senators whatsoever. That’s a huge break from recent history where members have been pretty intimately involved.”
Holmes, who hosts the “Ruthless” podcast, also criticized Graham on Wednesday after the senator revealed to reporters that he “voted for change.”
“This dude literally spent the first half of his career championing amnesty,” tweeted Holmes, regarding a Fox News graphic showing Graham advocated for “strong as hell” immigration policy.
Holmes told The Hill, “I don’t speak for the leader but I do know he supports all his members” as he discussed Graham’s immigration policy (the publication noted that Holmes’ firm receives financial support from a McConnell-aligned super PAC).
The Hill piece discussed Graham and McConnell “tensions” at length and suggested that Graham was doing the bidding of former President Donald Trump by supporting McConnell’s opponent in the leadership race.
Graham did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this story.
“The debate about Republican leadership is really about the direction of the GOP and the country,” Clint Brown, vice president of government relations at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal. “It’s not personal, though it probably feels that way to some senators. Many conservatives are perplexed as to why the GOP is comfortable with the status quo.”
“The Senate is tightly-knit,” added Brown, who formerly served as executive director of the Senate Steering Committee. “Standing up took courage.”
Bovard noted that “10 Republican senators broke ranks and said McConnell is not leading the conference in a direction that they support.”
“That would’ve been unheard of five years ago,” she added, saying of McConnell, “If he’s more focused on retaliation than the fact that he needs to clearly be more responsive to his conference, then he’s focused on the wrong things.”
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