Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) may find himself at the helm of an unruly caucus come 2018 – if he even holds onto his post — potentially tasked with leading a new batch of senators who are already expressing reluctance as to whether they back the controversial establishment figure.
Of nearly two dozen GOP Senate candidates who were asked if they would support McConnell as leader if elected, not a single one answered definitively in the affirmative, The Hill reported. Some openly defied McConnell’s leadership while others noted that they are still working out their allegiance.
The candidates’ hesitation surrounding McConnell appears to indicate an emerging war between the establishment and the insurgent populist undercurrent represented by former Trump White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who had declared war on the Republicans in Capitol Hill.
“Ten years ago when you ran campaigns, especially after 9/11, it was all about leadership. You could talk about your role in Congress in making things better,” a top GOP Senate aide told the outlet. “Now Republican voters want to burn the place down, so you have more of a tightrope.”
Defying McConnell comes with a certain amount of risk to candidates, as the Kentucky senator is often seen as the gatekeeper for hopefuls wishing to tap into the national party’s vast donor network. However, Bannon claims that his anti-establishment brand, which proved its mettle in getting Trump elected, will soon be able to lure longtime GOP fundraisers over to his side.
“Karl Rove, Steven Lawe, these guys should get the joke,” he told Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity during a recent interview. “Their donors are coming to us because they are tired of having their money burned up by trying to destroy people like [Alabama Senate candidate] Judge Moore. There’s a new game in town. We are to cut off the oxygen to Mitch McConnell. His biggest asset is the money.”