June 13, 2024 2:26 pm

Who will replace Mitch McConnell as the Senate’s top Republican?

Mitch McConnell announced on Wednesday that he intends to step down as the longest-serving Senate Republican leader following November’s general election.

For nearly 20 years, Republicans have relied on the effective Kentucky legislator to navigate the passage of conservative priorities.

Since he announced the news, Washington has moved quickly to speculate who could replace Mr McConnell, who has skilfully held his fracturing party together in recent times.

Those vying to succeed Mr McConnell face the daunting prospect of appealing to competing wings of the party.

Here are some of the Senate Republicans who are potential successors.

Senator John Thune of South Dakota

John Thune of South DakotaIMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
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John Thune, Mr McConnell’s number two, is considered a likely successor as Republican leader.

Mr Thune is typically the first mentioned of the “three Johns” who are considered the top candidates to take on Mr McConnell’s leadership position.

The South Dakota senator is currently the Republican whip, second-in-command to Mr McConnell, and he is known as an effective fundraiser within his party. He also is seen as a moderating force among Republicans, who have taken a hard turn to the right under the leadership of former President Donald Trump.

But Mr Thune’s position in leadership could also undermine his ambition to take on Mr McConnell’s post. Some Senate Republicans, particularly those allied with Mr Trump, have made clear they would like a fresh leader.

It is worth noting that Mr Thune only endorsed the former president’s candidacy a few days before Mr McConnell’s announcement. Mr Trump also endorsed the South Dakota senator’s Republican primary challenger in 2022.

Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming

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Sen John Barrasso has a position in Republican leadership, and he is viewed as a close supporter of Donald Trump

As the Republican Conference Chair, Mr Barrasso has an influential position within Senate party leadership – and he also has never crossed Mr Trump.

That could prove to be the necessary recipe to earn the support of many of his fellow Republicans if he were to pursue Mr McConnell’s leadership post.

Mr Barrasso was the second senator to support Mr Trump’s candidacy ahead of the 2024 primary campaign, and he has backed a slate of candidates who are in lockstep with the former president.

He immediately dismissed reporters questions when asked whether he intends to battle for Mr McConnell’s position, saying that he remains focused on the election results in November.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas

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John Cornyn has leadership experience in the Senate and has come to back Donald Trump, which could prove necessary.

The Texas senator once served in Mr McConnell’s leadership team, and he remains a close confidant of the Kentucky politician. He is widely considered a strong Senate operator thanks to his 22 years of legislative experience.

Being outside of leadership could also prove to be a benefit, as he did not participate in the recent deal to pass foreign aid in the Senate. He also was not part of the failed border security negotiations, which proved unpopular with the Republican Conference.

And, while Mr Cornyn has taken Mr Trump to task in the past, he endorsed the former president last month. He also never supported any of Mr Trump’s challengers, which saved him from earning the Maga movement’s ire.

Senator Rick Scott of Florida

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Rick Scott has angered many of his Republican colleagues in the past, but he recently challenged Mr McConnell for the leadership post.

Mr Scott angered a number of his Republican colleagues when he mounted a challenge against Mr McConnell 15 months ago.

He burned further bridges with them by proposing that several popular federal programs – such as Medicare and Social Security – be renegotiated every five years.

Even Mr Trump, who has been supportive of the Florida politician, has warned Mr Scott to “be careful” about his policy suggestions.

While odds are low that Mr Scott would run again or win the leadership position, he has maintained that the Senate needs new leadership. That comment was reflected in the statement he shared after Mr McConnell’s announcement.

“I have been very clear and have long believed that we need new leadership in the Senate that represents our voters and the issues we were sent here to fight for,” Mr Scott said.

The dark horses

While the four men are the most likely candidates, Capitol Hill can always surprise political observers. After all, few would have considered Mike Johnson, a little-known Louisiana congressman, as a viable candidate for Speaker of the House.

Sen Joni Ernst of Iowa, who served as the vice-chair of the Republican conference until January, is considered another potential candidate and a reliable backer of Mr Trump.

Another possibility is Sen Steve Daines of Montana. He currently leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and is leading the party’s efforts to retake the Senate majority.

Many Republicans feel bullish about their chances, and their electoral success in November could lift Mr Daines’ profile further.

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