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Mitch McConnell Should Watch His Back, Because a Close Ally May Be After His Leadership Position

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Mitch McConnell’s days as the Senate minority leader could soon come to an end amid mounting speculation he’ll be replaced by his close ally, Sen. John Thune, the second-highest-ranking Republican in the upper chamber.

The buzz is growing after McConnell raised eyebrows on Tuesday for refusing to endorse former President Donald Trump.

The 82-year-old Republican’s resistance was odd, considering Thune — his top deputy in the Senate — had endorsed Trump two days earlier.

“Over the weekend, Sen. Thune came out, he endorsed Trump, the other lieutenants have endorsed Trump. Why are you holding out on endorsing the likely nominee?” CNN reporter Manu Raju asked McConnell.

The octogenarian stammered, “I don’t have any announcement about that today.”

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As a senator closely associated with McConnell, the 62-year-old Thune is hardly more popular with Trump’s supporters than the veteran minority leader. His endorsement of the 45th president to return to the White House could be seen as not only a recognition of the political reality that Trump is on a likely inevitable path to the Republican nomination, but also as a way of courting support from Trump backers in a potential run for the party’s leadership in the Senate.

The reaction to McConnell’s reluctance to do the same underscores the point.

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Conservatives blasted McConnell on social media for his holdout stance, with many demanding he step down from his leadership position.

“It’s ludicrous to have a GOP Senate leader who hasn’t yet endorsed our presumptive nominee,” Jeremy Carl of the Claremont Institute, a conservative think tank, wrote on X.

However, Carl, who served as deputy assistant secretary of the Interior Department during the Trump administration, also slammed Thune — a vocal Trump critic — for dragging his feet before giving his endorsement this weekend, after Trump’s resounding victory in the South Carolina Republican primary.

“And it’s equally ludicrous that it took his deputy, Sen. Thune, until after South Carolina to do so,” he wrote. “We need new leadership in the Senate GOP.”

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Another user compared McConnell to the outoging Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. McDaniel announced on Monday that she will step down March 8.

“Mitch McConnell needs to resign just like Ronna McDaniel just did,” the commenter wrote. “They’re both establishment pawns.”

McConnell has come under intense scrutiny after a series of alarming incidents where he inexplicably froze up at news conferences and was unable to speak.

These scary episodes have fueled speculation that the octogenarian may have suffered a stroke, seizure or some other age-related deterioration.

As it is, McConnell has been excoriated by both his colleagues and the GOP base for failing to secure the border and curb the non-stop flow of U.S. tax dollars to Ukraine.

Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who unsuccessfully challenged McConnell for the GOP Senate GOP leadership in 2022, has slammed McConnell for botching a border bill to stem the mass illegal immigration metastasizing under Joe Biden’s failed presidency.

The bill was an example of McConnell working closer with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer than he is with Republicans, Scott said in early February, according to the Daily Caller. And, he said, a change at the top is needed.

“Well, you know, I ran against McConnell for this reason,” Scott said in a report published Feb. 7. “The conference is basically being run by one person making the decision. And then working with Schumer and giving us a bunch of bad bills.”

The border bill, which died in the Senate for lack of Republican support (it would have been dead on arrival in the House, anyway), infuriated other GOP senators, too.

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah wrote on X, “WE NEED NEW LEADERSHIP — NOW.”

While Thune is hardly an enthusiastic Trump supporter or a hardliner when it comes to Ukraine or border security, he’s widely considered next in line to become the Senate minority leader,

In October, as The Hill reported, Thune took a prominent role in negotiations to avoid a government shutdown. The same article noted that Thune had handled the party’s “day-to-day operation of the Senate floor” after McConnell suffered a concussion and rib fractures in a hotel fall in March and had “showcased his influence in other ways.”

Publicly, Thune has been quiet about any potential move up. According to The Hill, he was asked earlier in 2023 about a future leadership race and said it was putting “the cart before the horse,” since McConnell hasn’t made any moves to retire.But that doesn’t mean he isn’t after his leadership position, just waiting in the wings and ready to step in.

Considering McConnell’s numerous, very public medical problems, that might be changing before his term ends in 2027, however, and Thune appears to be getting ready.

Thune may not be the ideal replacement for McConnell, but he’s better than the flailing career politician from Kentucky.


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