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Republican disarray: Rick Scott pushes back against McConnell

With the midterm elections just 68 days away, Rick Scott is ready for a fight ... with Mitch McConnell. Democrats couldn't be more pleased.


With the midterm elections just 68 days away, it’s tempting to assume that Senate Republican leaders would be looking ahead, focusing on messaging, allocation of resources, and perhaps even a plan for how they’d legislate if rewarded by voters with a majority.

That’s clearly not what’s happening among GOP leaders right now. NBC News reported this morning:

Sen. Rick Scott, chairman of Senate Republicans’ campaign fundraising arm, has derided members of his own party who have expressed disdain for their midterm election candidates.

The Florida senator didn’t just make some provocative, offhand comments during an unscripted interview. Rather, Scott wrote an op-ed for the Washington Examiner, a conservative news site, in which the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee wrote that “many of the very people responsible for losing the Senate last cycle are now trying to stop us from winning the majority this time by trash-talking our Republican candidates.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s name did not appear in the opinion piece, published this morning, but there’s no great mystery as to who Scott was referring to. After all, it was just a couple of weeks ago when the Kentucky Republican expressed public concern about “candidate quality” possibly standing in the way of a GOP majority.

It’s against that backdrop that Scott wrote:

It’s an amazing act of cowardice, and ultimately, it’s treasonous to the conservative cause.... If you want to trash-talk our candidates to help the Democrats, pipe down. That’s not what leaders do.... [W]hen you complain and lament that we have “bad candidates,” what you are really saying is that you have contempt for the voters who chose them. Now we are at the heart of the matter. Much of Washington’s chattering class disrespects and secretly (or not so secretly) loathes Republican voters.

Or put another way, with 68 days remaining in the election cycle, and the odds of a Republican takeover of the Senate falling, the chamber’s top GOP member is disappointed with some of the party’s painfully unqualified nominees, and a fellow member of the Senate Republican leadership has written a column throwing around words like “cowardice” and “treasonous.”

And just in case there were any lingering doubts about whether Scott was attacking McConnell specifically, after the Washington Examiner piece ran, the Florida senator appeared on a conservative radio talk show this morning and was asked about McConnell’s “candidate quality” quote.

“It’s a shot at our candidates and the voters,” Scott replied.

Soon after, the director of rapid response for the Democratic National Committee said via Twitter, “I simply could not be enjoying today any more.”

In case this isn’t obvious, the animosity between McConnell and Scott is not especially new. It was early last year, for example, when McConnell implored his members to be responsible and not oppose the certification of the 2020 election results. Scott was among the small group of senators to ignore the plea.

In the months that followed, McConnell declared that his conference would not present a policy blueprint ahead of the midterm elections. Scott ignored him again, and unveiled a radical vision that Democrats continue to treat as a pinata.

After the Floridian unveiled his far-right agenda, McConnell delivered a public smackdown of sorts, making clear that he — and not Scott — would be leading the party and setting its direction.

More recently, Scott noticeably declined to comment in June when asked if he’d commit to supporting McConnell as party leader in the next Congress.

As the Examiner op-ed makes clear, the intra-party divisions have reached a new level of intensity.

It’s also created a dynamic that’s wholly unfamiliar. Politicians, of course, are people, and sometimes people fail to get along. That happens even among partisan and ideological allies. It’s also true that fellow partisans will sometimes disagree over substantive and strategic issues, and those disputes can turn contentious and personal.

But in nearly every instance, those arguments play out privately. With Scott and McConnell, we’re watching two members of the Senate Republican leadership trade increasingly sharp barbs in public, in an election year, as the political winds that were at their backs start to shift.

If there’s a modern precedent for anything like this, I’m not aware of it.