The feud in the Senate Republican conference gets juicier by the day, with more and more senators feeling the need—when pressed by reporters—to take sides. The tension between Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who is heading up the election arm of the party at National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC), and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been simmering for months, reaching the knives-out point this week when The New York Times published its investigation into all the millions of dollars Scott has blown this cycle.
August was already bad enough. In an attempt to set low expectations for Republicans taking the majority this election, McConnell suggested that there’s a problem of “quality” in the candidates who advanced in the primaries. Scott answered in an op-ed, not mentioning McConnell by name, saying it was tantamount to “treason” to question any Republican candidate. That’s after other public spats involving Scott’s decision to release a radical and frightening platform for Republicans, which McConnell then trashed.
After what must have been a really fun Republican leadership meeting Tuesday, Scott emerged to insist that he wasn’t talking about McConnell in the op-ed, it was the other traitorous Republicans. He insisted that he and McConnell “are in the same position, we want to win the races and he’s working hard. … He’s committed to win, I’m committed to win.” McConnell, on the other hand, “simply raised his eyebrows when asked if he and Scott were now on the same page.”
McConnell apparently thinks it’s time to just freeze Scott out. He has taken on the task of fundraising for his big super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, to make sure it has enough funding to make up for all the NRSC losses. He’s also, according to CNN’s sources, told fellow Republican senators to transfer money from their PACs to his instead of giving it to the NRSC. “McConnell decided rather than fight this to focus all his efforts on SLF,” one source told CNN.
The sides-taking is clear here. Asked about how the NRSC is burning through money with little to show for it, Texas Sen. John Cornyn told CNN, “Well, it concerns me a lot.” He’s on McConnell’s leadership team and formerly served as NRSC chairman. “The Democrats are going to vastly outspend Republicans across the board. But as long as we have enough money to tell our story and to defend our opposition, I think we’ll be fine.” McConnell’s number two, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, has been talking directly with candidates, bypassing the NRSC, to set up joint fundraising committees.
There are those on Scott’s side, too, even though Scott has insisted that he’s not taking on McConnell. “McConnell’s comments hurt Republican candidates,” a source close to Scott said. “Anyone who disagrees with that is either an idiot or on McConnell’s payroll.”
A strategist on McConnell’s side fired back: “If you don’t know the difference between how House and Senate campaigns are financed, you probably shouldn’t advertise that in September of an election year if you’re in charge of Senate elections.” That was in reference to Scott’s decision to appear at a fundraiser for a House candidate in Iowa, a likely indication of his own 2024 presidential aspirations.
Meanwhile, the “nothing to see here” ploy isn’t working at all as Republican senators fall over themselves to talk about how bad it is that they’re fighting in public.
“I think we need to be united in our message,” West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said Tuesday. “We have a great opportunity here and so I don’t think it’s a good strategy to be feuding two months before the election.”
“It’s clear to me that Republicans need to rally around their candidates if we are ever going to have success, and we can’t afford to have divisions within our conference,” said Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran.
“It’s always best to stand behind Mitch McConnell,” Utah Sen. Mitt Romney told CNN.
North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis said this is all “a distraction from what voters are going to be motivated by,” and says he thinks Scott is doing a fine job. “I don’t think it ever makes sense—I’ve been doing this since 2007—and it always makes sense to focus on who you want to defeat in November, not each other,” he said.
As they all continue to dish to reporters about the feud. Too, too delicious.
Add on a nuclear secrets-stealing former president to whom Republicans are supposed to still be declaring fealty and an electorate fired up about the loss of abortion rights at the hands of Republicans, and now is a bad time to be a Republican in the Senate.
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