McConnell Safe From Potential Election Fallout

Blame for GOP losing the Senate would largely fall on Donald Trump

The Senate GOP leadership team is expected to stay intact. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
The Senate GOP leadership team is expected to stay intact. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted September 7, 2016 at 5:00am

The November election may go poorly for the Senate Republicans, but there’s no reason to expect a leadership shake-up.

One longtime Senate Republican aide said that GOP senators would blame a wave election sweeping Democrats back into the majority on Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and perhaps his former presidential primary rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

There’s no chance that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will be booted from his post atop the conference, sources said.

“Zero is right. Absolutely zero,” a GOP aide said. “Plus, there is no one credible to challenge him and no one would want that job.”

There’s also the fact that the GOP’s conference term limits on leadership positions below McConnell’s will be front and center at the end of the next Congress.

When Utah Sen. Mike Lee was mulling a campaign for Republican Policy Committee chairman earlier this year, his expectation was that the post, currently occupied by Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, would be coming vacant. That led to internal debate over what’s generally a six-year limit for the various members of the GOP leadership team.

McConnell and other leaders pointed to past precedent to argue that partial terms did not count, and the conference eventually adopted that position more formally. That means Barrasso and others, including Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas will reach leadership tenure limits following the 2018 midterm election.

The 2018 map includes contests on turf generally more favorable to Republicans, with Democratic senators such as Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Jon Tester of Montana up for re-election.

Among the current leadership, only Republican Conference Vice Chairman Roy Blunt of Missouri is in a competitive re-election contest. Conference Chairman John Thune is also on the ballot in South Dakota, but his race is rated “Safe Republican” by The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call.

Blunt, on the other hand, is facing a serious challenge from Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander.

McConnell’s safe position comes in part from the fact that current conference members have been running for re-election on their records in this Congress and policy achievements like legislation designed to combat the opioid epidemic that was signed into law.

In cases where poor electoral outcomes have resulted in leadership shake-ups, one Republican strategist with ties to McConnell said that “something about the job that they have done had become a liability for their membership”

But in 2016, GOP incumbents are campaigning “almost exclusively on their Senate service into a tide of a negative environment of Trump.”

And the strategist also said that, at least among Senate Republicans, the jockeying for leadership positions for jobs coming open at the start of the Congress in 2019 will likely not be an immediate priority.

That’s because the immediate business will be getting to work addressing the priorities of a new Congress and a new administration in the White House, regardless of whether Trump or Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton actually prevails in November.

“I think leadership elections are a far, far cry from the business at hand,” the strategist said.