Capitol Hill insiders weigh in on who could replace McConnell

 September 8, 2023

Following Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's public displays of health trouble, questions have been spreading across Capitol Hill about who could potentially replace the aging leader should he step down.

The Daily Caller polled current and former Senate staffers regarding a prospective McConnell replacement, according to their recent report, and found noteworthy results.

All those polled agreed that no outsider could successfully challenge McConnell for leadership.

The Results

The Caller granted their interviewees anonymity so that the delicate subject could be discussed without fear of repercussions on The Hill.

“The alternative is really just a look-a-like in Cornyn or Thune. My understanding is that Thune is likely to really inherit the McConnell infrastructure and he seems to be the one that is likely to get it," a former Senate Chief of Staff told the Caller of Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and John Thune of South Dakota.

"At some point when McConnell does leave, in some form or fashion, I don’t think Cornyn is without a shot. I think he has a chance but I don’t see anybody else," the aide went on. I don’t see a viable outsider alternative coming into play."

“I put the Senate maybe into three camps. So, there are strong McConnell allies. There are the people who don’t like McConnell and voted against him and are actual outsiders and there’s the folks in the middle," the former Senate Chief of Staff continued.

"Frankly, a plurality of them were indifferent to McConnell, but afraid of their own shadow and will always support McConnell or whoever is the leader. There’s a process, if you will, and that is very likely to stay the same. I don’t think anyone is actually going to step up.

The insider went on to talk about another possible candidate, saying, "Rick Scott stepped up, to his credit, but even if you had maybe someone who was more associated with the MAGA-Right or the populist realignment, I still don’t think it will make a difference because of that plurality people who don’t really do much, but always are willing to support the leadership and always support the establishment.”

Moves of the Senate Leadership Roster

A current aide in the Senate has claimed that Thune or Cornyn are the most likely candidates to replace McConnell, and that Thune is already de facto filling in for McConnell.

“Thune and Cornyn are seen as the most natural successors. Right? Because they’re kind of doing the job right now to be totally candid," the Senate aide said.

"And Cornyn, you know has been in leadership. But I don’t think I don’t know that the field will be limited to just those two. I think there are a lot of senators I mean, this will be the first leadership election in 16 years.

The Capitol Hill employee said, however, that there are likely a "number of senators eyeing the position" and "I don’t know that it would be an outsider necessarily. I’m thinking more like, you know, Joni Ernst or Steve Daines or something. I don’t know that Rick Scott will run again, I don’t think that the conference would elect an outsider necessarily,” the aide continued.

The aide added that while he thought they'd "never say it publicly," that "privately, there’s a lot of unhappiness with how the conference has been run. I think people want to change how business has been done. Also, when you haven’t had a leadership challenge in that long. There’s obviously some catharsis that needs to happen.”

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