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Mitch McConnell beats back challenge, but Senate GOP troubles remain

The good news for McConnell is that he's going to keep his current job. The bad news is that, for the minority leader, there isn't any other good news.

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Ahead of today’s vote on the Senate Republicans’ leadership, GOP members first considered a related question: whether to delay the vote itself. The measure didn’t come especially close to passing, but 16 Republican senators — representing roughly a third of the GOP conference — voted to ignore party leaders’ request and slow the process down.

That set the stage for the party choosing the Senate minority leader for the next Congress. Incumbent leader Mitch McConnell was likely pleased with the outcome, though the closer one looked at the details, the more obvious the party’s troubles appeared. NBC News reported:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was re-elected as Republican leader on Wednesday, defeating a challenge from Sen. Rick Scott of Florida that reflects growing angst within the party after it underperformed in the midterm elections. The secret-ballot victory was confirmed by McConnell spokesman David Popp, with Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., telling reporters that 37 Republicans voted for McConnell while 10 supported Scott and one senator voted “present.”

At first blush, a 37-to-10 vote might seem like a lopsided victory. But as we’ve discussed, it was nearly 16 years ago when McConnell first became the Senate Republican’s top leader, and at the time, he ran unopposed. In every Congress since, the Kentucky senator has asked to remain in the position — sometimes as majority leader, other times as minority leader — and he has never faced an intraparty rival.

This year, Rick Scott, hoping to parlay failure into a promotion, ran against him anyway. The far-right Floridian and his allies knew the bid was a long shot, but they intended to send a signal of intraparty discontent.

They succeeded. After nearly 16 years of 100% backing from Senate Republicans, McConnell received another term after more than a fifth of his conference chose not to back him.

The vote was a secret-ballot process conducted behind closed doors, so we’ll likely never know with certainty how every member voted, but Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin formally nominated Scott for leader, and some high-profile GOP senators — including Texas’ Ted Cruz and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham — said they voted for the challenger over the incumbent.

At this point, the good news for the minority leader is that he’s going to keep his current job. The bad news is that, from McConnell’s perspective, there isn’t any other good news.

Republicans fell far short of their expectations in the midterm elections; Donald Trump, who makes no effort to hide his hatred for McConnell, just launched yet another presidential campaign; and GOP senators are clearly not united on much of anything. Indeed, The Hill reported that Senate Republicans met yesterday and “let their fury and frustration out at one another” in a meeting that turned “nasty and personal.”

The McConnell-Scott feud appears unlikely to end anytime soon; the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s finances are facing a possible audit; and as his tenure as NRSC chairman comes to an end, Scott is now alleging without evidence that there were improper activities at the NRSC before he took over.

If you’re thinking that Democrats are enjoying all of this, you’re right.