Republicans may have won the battle to retake the House in this month’s midterm elections, but the manner of the win that ultimately resulted in a thinner majority than expected means the GOP is facing new challenges that could threaten its agenda — and they’re coming from within the party.
In the first week back in session, Republicans already experienced intraparty drama and infighting, a result of building tension from the last two years. Relations have been shaky among top Republicans, particularly after former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment that split the party based on who supported the former president’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
“You’ve gotta have a war every five or 10 years to get rid of the bad blood,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) told Politico, borrowing a line from The Godfather to paint a picture of Senate Republicans. “And then you start over.”
Tension continued to build earlier this week when Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) mounted a leadership challenge to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, putting the Kentucky Republican’s future in limbo as it was the first contested race for Senate leader for either party since 1996. McConnell ultimately prevailed over Scott with a 37-10 vote, securing another term as the top Senate Republican and setting the stage to become the longest-serving party leader in Senate history during the next Congress.
However, those 10 votes reveal some division among the party, especially as some high-profile Republicans have been outspoken about their opposition to McConnell’s leadership.
“I voted for change,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who noted he voted for Scott. “I accept the results of the conference, and I hope we can be better.”
It’s not clear why Graham voted against McConnell, although some Republicans have reportedly suggested it could reflect a division among the party based on loyalty to Trump.
Republicans have also been shaken by their lackluster performance in the midterm elections, failing to capture control of the Senate and clinching only a slim majority in the House despite projections the GOP would seize control of both chambers over the next two years. Senate Republicans spent roughly three hours on Tuesday in a GOP conference lunch reflecting on the election results, exposing tensions among Republicans over what exactly went wrong.
Scott and McConnell openly feuded over midterm strategy throughout the campaign cycle, particularly on how Republicans should frame their messaging.
While McConnell wanted the midterm elections to act as a referendum on President Joe Biden and his administration, Scott also wanted to present a unified agenda that laid out what the GOP would do in the next Congress. Tensions also rose after Scott predicted earlier in the summer that Republicans had a pathway to a 55-seat majority, criticizing McConnell, who later said the fight for the majority would be incredibly close.
McConnell suggested Republican losses were due to candidates being “crushed by independent voters,” referring to warnings he made earlier in the midterm cycle about “candidate quality” that could sink GOP chances. Those warnings were directed toward Republican nominees who were endorsed by the former president.
The Republican leader seemed unfazed by Scott’s challenge, telling reporters after the votes were cast he was “pretty proud of 37 to 10.”