A month after the midterm elections, it’s difficult to overstate just how deep the divisions are among Senate Republicans. GOP senators found themselves divided on whether to hold leadership elections. They were also divided on who to elect to leadership positions. They were also divided on who to blame for their electoral disappointments.
In theory, after an intra-party contingent took aim at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and missed — it was the first leadership challenge the Kentucky Republican ever faced — the party had an opportunity to close ranks, move forward, and come to terms with the disappointing reality of another two years in the minority.
Indeed, common sense might suggest that the Republicans who rallied against McConnell would have to hope that they didn’t face his retaliatory wrath. (The phrase, “You come at the king, you best not miss” keeps coming to mind.)
But in practice, the party’s far-right faction has different plans in mind. Politico reported:
About a half-dozen Republican senators, most of whom publicly opposed Mitch McConnell as their leader last month, are getting more organized in a bid to exert their leverage in the chamber. ... These GOP senators have been quietly meeting on a regular basis to strategize future battles worth picking within McConnell’s ranks, and they’re set to call a special conference meeting next week to start a broader debate within the Republican conference.
The initiative apparently includes Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Mike Braun of Indiana, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Rick Scott of Florida.
By all appearances, they’re not quite as organized as the far-right Freedom Caucus in the House — at least not yet — but they’re meeting regularly, crafting plans, initiating debates, and preparing to be a thorn in the side of their own party’s leaders. “We’re getting together more frequently,” Paul added. “We feel like there are some things that conservatives want throughout the country.”
They’ve also adopted an informal name: As Braun put it, “Somebody’s called it the Breakfast Club.”
To be sure, the group is a minority of a minority, though as Politico’s report added, they’ll have plenty of opportunities to interfere with Senate governance:
[W]ith the legislative filibuster intact and individual senators still empowered to influence the chamber schedule, conservatives motivated enough to stick together could wield significant sway. They can object to time agreements that would speed up floor debate, demand amendment votes and pressure leaders for concessions, as they did recently in pushing to scrap Covid vaccine mandates for service members.
Johnson noted that McConnell might not approve of the group’s efforts, but he added, “I don’t care.”
What’s striking is not just the scope of the fissures among ostensible allies. It’s also not just the idea that McConnell, of all people, is insufficiently partisan by the standards of some of his members.
Rather, what stands out most for me is the lesson these Republicans took from the midterm elections. The GOP spent much of the last two years assuming that voters would soon reward the party with a majority. The electorate saw some of the radicals the party nominated in key races and moved in the other direction.
It’s against this backdrop that several prominent Senate Republicans have decided that the smart move is to be less constructive, more partisan, more confrontational, and more reactionary.