Posted by on January 11, 2022 6:06 am
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Alabama Senate contenders mum on McConnell as Trump calls for ouster

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., tells reporters he intends to cancel the traditional August recess and keep the Senate in session to deal with backlogged tasks, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, June 5, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Alabama Senate contenders mum on McConnell as Trump calls for ouster

David M. Drucker January 11, 06:00 AMJanuary 11, 06:00 AM

The trio of Republicans vying for Senate in Alabama is refusing to follow the lead of former President Donald Trump and demand the ouster of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Asked whether the Kentucky Republican, 79, should be fired or if they will support him for Senate GOP leader if they win the Alabama primary in May and are elected in November, the three candidates were noncommittal in statements provided to the Washington Examiner. That includes Rep. Mo Brooks, who has been endorsed by Trump, Katie Britt, former chief of staff to retiring Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby, and businessman and military veteran Mike Durant.

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“My position is this,” Brooks said this month in an email exchange: “Mo Brooks will vote for the most conservative candidate for Senate Republican leader who most closely represents the values of Alabama citizens and who will best rise to the challenges America faces.”

Durant, via campaign spokesman Jahan Wilcox, staked out a similarly vague position. “Unlike his opponents, Mike isn’t a career politician, so if that’s a vote when he gets to the Senate, he’d be looking for the best person to advance the America First agenda.”

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Trump has offered no such equivocations.

Among the deluge of prepared statements the former president issues weekly are periodic slaps at McConnell and calls for Republican senators to remove him immediately as minority leader. Trump soured on McConnell, an ally during four years in the White House, in December 2020 after the senator affirmed the election of President Joe Biden. Trump’s opposition to McConnell escalated last summer after the Kentuckian backed Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, ensuring it would become law.

In a Republican Senate primary in Alabama, where grassroots Republicans are especially pro-Trump and particularly anti-McConnell, the hesitation to side with Trump in the McConnell question is curious. To the Republican base, the matter of McConnell’s leadership is more than just a sideshow; it resonates. To the extent Britt, Brooks, and Durant are likely to agree on major issues, opposing McConnell is one viable path the candidates might choose to differentiate themselves from the competition.

“There’s a lot of grumbling when his name comes up,” said Terry Lathan, former chairwoman of the Alabama Republican Party. “I can’t imagine somebody in a forum or debate will not ask that question.”

A few Republicans running for their party’s nomination for Senate in other states have made McConnell an issue and joined Trump in pressing for his ejection from leadership. These Republicans include Trump-endorsee Kelly Tshibaka, who is challenging Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, plus two candidates hoping to score the former president’s backing: Eric Greitens, the disgraced former governor running for an open seat in Missouri, and, in Oklahoma, long-shot Jackson Lahmeyer, a businessman running against Sen. James Lankford.

Public and private polling suggests this strategy could pay dividends.

Nationally, McConnell’s job approval ratings are an abysmal 34%, in large part because a majority of Republican voters (54%) disapprove of his leadership, according to a recent Gallup survey. That level of dissatisfaction, be it driven by Trump, typical voter unrest, or a combination, has made opposing McConnell and vowing to vote against him for leader if elected to the Senate a salient concern on the Right with appeal beyond the former president’s loyalists.

“Opposing him actually does move voters in a GOP primary,” said a Republican operative who has viewed polling in various Senate primaries and often advises anti-establishment candidates. “It’s the politically popular thing to do in most Senate primaries.”

It is therefore revealing that so few Republican Senate candidates running in 2022 primaries — and none in Alabama — have taken up opposing McConnell. In a lengthy statement, Britt declined to address her party’s Senate leadership altogether, saying she was “solely focused on winning this election for the people of Alabama, who are the only ones I will answer to,” adding, in reference to Brooks: “I’m committed to beating my do-nothing career politician opponent.”

With her ties to McConnell ally Shelby, Republican insiders presume Britt is a quiet supporter of the minority leader.

Some Republican operatives inside and outside of Alabama are speculating Britt, Brooks, and Durant are laying off McConnell at least partly because they fear his well-funded political operation and do not want to incur its wrath in the primary. The Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with McConnell, is often active in nominating contests. The National Republican Senatorial Committee does not intervene in open-seat primaries. That could be top of mind for Brooks.

When the congressman ran for Senate in a special election primary in 2017, he opposed McConnell for leader. The Senate Leadership Fund pounded Brooks on the air, and he was never able to respond adequately. Republican voters in Alabama did not appreciate McConnell’s involvement in that race, but it was Roy Moore, not Brooks (or McConnell’s preferred candidate, Luther Strange) who benefited. Republicans running for Senate in other states may also worry about ending up in McConnell’s crosshairs.

But perhaps Republican Senate contenders simply recognize McConnell’s political strength and staying power.

There is nearly zero appetite among sitting Republican senators to dethrone McConnell, the top GOP leader in the Senate since just after the 2006 elections. How formidable has the seven-term senator been since? Beginning in 2008, McConnell has run unopposed for minority or majority leader every two years in conference leadership elections, retaining the top post by acclamation.

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If elected, and if the GOP wins the Senate majority in the midterm elections, a Majority Leader McConnell might not be an adversary worth having, especially if there is not a contested leadership election to vote in to fulfill a campaign pledge. Unlike the House, where members cast public floor votes for speaker, the Senate chooses the majority leader behind closed doors, with only members of the majority party getting a vote.

Even with Trump agitating against McConnell, allies of the minority leader described opposition to his reign as no different than every other general election, a movement of the very few receiving predictably outsize attention. “This cycle has been par for the course,” a Republican operative supportive of McConnell said. “It’s a biannual tradition for candidates who are trying anything they can to find a gap in the primary.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

Originally appeared at Washington Examiner

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