Amid a very vocal war of words between the most powerful GOP leader in Congress and the most popular and influential Republican politician among the party’s base, the chair of the reelection arm of the Senate GOP wants unity as Republicans aim to win back the chamber’s majority next year.
Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), is staying quiet amid the spat between former President Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
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“Chairman Scott’s goal is to win back the Senate, and the only way we do that is with everyone working together,” a source with knowledge of the senator’s thinking tells Fox News. “And that includes both Leader McConnell and Trump. That’s where Scott’s focus is”
McConnell voted on Saturday to acquit the former president – who was impeached last month on one count of inciting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by right-wing extremists and other Trump supporters aiming to disrupt congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.
But McConnell eviscerated Trump in a speech on the Senate floor minutes after the trial concluded. And he did it did it again on Monday, writing in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal: “There is no question former President Trump bears moral responsibility. His supporters stormed the Capitol because of the unhinged falsehoods he shouted into the world’s largest megaphone. His behavior during and after the chaos was also unconscionable.”
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Trump fired back with a scathing statement on Tuesday, slamming McConnell as a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack” and arguing that the GOP would “never again be respected or strong” with McConnell at its helm.
Trump is vowing to remain the dominant figure in the GOP going forward and pledges to support primary challengers against Republicans who have crossed him and who are up for reelection in 2022.
The spat also comes as Trump flirts with a presidential run in 2024 to try to return to the White House, and as the latest public opinion polls indicate the former president remains extremely popular with Republican voters.
Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., emphasized on Fox News’ “Hannity” on Monday that his father “is going to keep pushing that America First agenda … He’s going to be pushing for candidates who will do that, not the random establishment guys.”
And longtime top Trump political adviser Corey Lewandowski told Fox News recently that the former president would be “actively involved” in primary challenges to Republicans who opposed him.
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But McConnell, in two post-impeachment trial interviews, teased that he may cross paths with Trump when it comes to upcoming Senate GOP primaries.
“My goal is, in every way possible, to have nominees representing the Republican Party who can win in November,” McConnell told Politico on Saturday. “Some of them may be people the former president likes. Some of them may not be. The only thing I care about is electability.”
The key to victory in 2022 is “getting candidates who can actually win,” McConnell told the Wall Street Journal in a separate news piece that ran this week. “That may or may not involve trying to affect the outcome of the primaries.”
The comments from McConnell fuel speculation that Senate primary showdowns over the next year and a half could turn into a power struggle between the Trump and anti-Trump factions of the GOP – and that’s sure to make life uncomfortable for Senate Republicans running in 2022.
Two longtime GOP senators who are up for reelection next year are already in Trump’s crosshairs. They are Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who voted to convict Trump, and the number two Republican in the chamber, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, who criticized Trump’s unsuccessful moves to try and upend Biden’s victory.
Scott highlighted in an interview with Fox News last month that the NRSC’s “clearly going to support our incumbents.”
And the source emphasized that Scott remains committed to backing GOP incumbents running for reelection, adding that “nothing that’s happened over the last week has changed his view.”
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Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, who’s up for reelection in 2022, counseled avoiding internecine fights on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom” Wednesday. “If we get into personality squabbles and fights, we are going to be in a challenging place in 2022 and 2024 – which means America will be embracing socialism because we can’t get our act together on the right,” he said. But he added that Trump is “the most powerful political figure on either side.”
Veteran Republican strategist Brian Walsh told Fox News that “it’s far too early to tell” if the Trump-McConnell clash will have a lasting impact on GOP efforts to win back control of the Senate that the party just lost in the 2020 election cycle.
“There is no one who works harder and is more laser-focused on winning back a Republican majority than Mitch McConnell,” noted Walsh, a former Senate GOP leadership aide who also served as NRSC communications director.
“No one should forget he already helped win a Senate majority in 2014 without Donald Trump,” he said. “The ball is largely in the former president’s court whether he wants to help Republicans win in 2022 or focus instead on the types of personal grievances that cost Republicans the two Georgia Senate seats and the majority in January.”
Senate Democrats, who hope to defend and even expand on their razor-thin majority – the Senate is split 50/50 between the two parties but the Democrats control the chamber due to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris in her role as president of the Senate – appear to be enjoying the Trump-McConnell clash.
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“Rick Scott and other Republicans are desperate to hide their stance because they know the party is bitterly divided between McConnell’s toxic Washington politics and Trump’s unhinged conspiracy theories, but they can’t have it both ways,” charged Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesperson Stewart Boss.