Columbus, OH — A new report from Cleveland.com reveals Republican Senate candidates are once again in disarray as they waver on Trump’s effort to oust Mitch McConnell as Minority Leader. As Andrew Tobias points out, these candidates — who are always putting their own political interests first — can’t seem to decide between McConnell and Trump, putting them at risk of angering Trump. And we all know in today’s Republican Party, a nasty tweet from Trump can quickly sink a GOP campaign.
The Trump-McConnell feud is just the latest loyalty test for these GOP Senate candidates, whose political positions are always based on placating out-of-state Republicans rather than the needs of Ohio voters. In a sign of how messy this race will get for the Republican Party, these millionaire candidates have been willing to go to new lows each week in attacking each other and debasing themselves to chase Trump’s endorsement – yet most of the Republican Senate candidates are too afraid to cross Mitch McConnell and his army of wealthy special interest donors.
Stay tuned to see how this plays out with Trump world. We’re guessing not well.
“In true millionaire fashion, the Ohio GOP Senate candidates have made clear the endorsement they value most is out-of-state special interest donors,” said Michael Beyer, a spokesperson for the Ohio Democratic Party.
By Andrew Tobias
October 13, 2021
Ohio’s Republican leading U.S. Senate candidates largely have been in lockstep with former President Donald Trump. But they’ve been less eager to join Trump when it comes to one major fight affecting the GOP.
In recent weeks, both former state treasurer Josh Mandel and former Ohio Republican Party chairman Jane Timken have sidestepped questions on whether they think Mitch McConnell should remain leader of U.S. Senate Republicans, a job he’s held since 2007. In doing so, they avoided siding with Trump, who has called for McConnell’s ouster repeatedly months after the powerful Senate Republican leader declined to back the former president’s false claims about the 2020 election.
“I don’t understand your question — is there someone running against him? I’m not going to entertain hypothetical situations that don’t even exist in reality,” Mandel told the Wall Street Journal last month, taking a similar tack as he did when he ran for Senate in 2018. Mandel’s campaign declined to comment further this week.
Timken evaded the question in an Oct. 1 podcast interview with Steve Bannon, a far-right former Trump campaign manager who has called for McConnell’s ouster for years.
Meanwhile, another leading Republican Senate candidate, JD Vance, has said he supports replacing McConnell, siding with Trump.
In a Sept. 17 podcast interview, Vance said that while he has “no idea” who would run to replace McConnell or how the process works, he said Republicans need widespread leadership change in Washington, D.C.
“I think McConnell has shown at times that he’s a little out of touch with the base … I think that it’s time that we moved beyond the very old leadership class that’s dominated the Republican Party for a long time. We’ve got to do it. We’ve got to bring some new blood in. We’ve got to get people the base is really excited about,” Vance said.
A fourth candidate, Mike Gibbons, called for McConnell to be replaced in 2018, criticizing Mandel for not joining him, when Gibbons unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate that year.
This year, he is taking a more neutral approach, according to a statement from his campaign.
“I was the first candidate for Senate to oppose the bipartisan infrastructure bill, but I believe Sen. McConnell understands that the Senate is the last line of defense against far-left Democrats and their radical agenda,” said Gibbons, a Cleveland investment banker. “I have not made a decision on who I will support for Majority Leader as we don’t know what the landscape will look like in January 2022, but we cannot discount Sen. McConnell’s important role right now in defending our Constitution and our country.”
State Sen. Matt Dolan, the only GOP candidate who’s not running an explicitly pro-Trump campaign, similarly sidestepped the issue in a statement: “Political squabbles make for good headlines in Washington, but it doesn’t bring one job to Ohio or defend our state’s interest that remain under threat from the Biden Administration and the Democratic agenda in Congress.”
One more Republican candidate, Bernie Moreno, hasn’t publicly commented. Messages have been left with his campaign.
The candidates are all running to replace Republican Sen. Rob Portman, a close McConnell ally who is retiring in 2022. The Republican field hasn’t been shy about supporting Trump in another proxy fight with McConnell – in August, all but Dolan opposed an infrastructure bill negotiated by Portman that McConnell supported but which Trump loudly opposed.
Tom Sutton, a political scientist at Baldwin Wallace University, said he was surprised particularly that Mandel would be circumspect when given an opportunity to align himself with Trump. But he said the candidates might be reluctant to cross McConnell when it may not help their campaign while exposing them to future retribution if they were to win the race.
Democrats hold a razor-thin one-seat majority in the Senate; Republicans are considered likely to retake the chamber next year, which would restore McConnell to his former position of power, Sutton said.
“Part of it, quite frankly, is McConnell has been a leader for a long time, and he knows how to manipulate the levers of power at the party and the Senate,” Sutton said. “And if you’re aiming to be the next senator from Ohio, he’s going to hang on to that power, and you’re going to have to work him.”
Meanwhile, Sutton said Vance might be trying to distance himself from his past prolific criticism of Trump from before he became a political candidate. And, he said candidates might view McConnell as having completed his work, given that he helped Trump confirm three judges to the U.S. Supreme Court, cementing a solid conservative majority.
“Some might say… that’s a mission accomplished, and so do we still need him?” Sutton said.
Michael Beyer, a spokesman for the Ohio Democratic Party, said: “As Republican Senate candidates make their next self-interested political calculation in this nasty primary, they face a tough choice: do they go all-out to pursue Trump’s endorsement, or do they court Mitch McConnell and his wealthy special interest donors?”
After working closely with Trump during his presidency, McConnell repudiated Trump earlier this year after the former president falsely claimed he lost the November election due to widespread fraud. The claim has been rejected by his own justice and homeland security departments, some top Republicans and dozens of state and federal courts. McConnell and his aides blamed Trump for losing two U.S. Senate seats in Georgia, and with it, control of the Senate, saying his election fraud claims dampened turnout in Republican areas of the state, according to Politico.
McConnell even denounced Trump in a February speech on the U.S. Senate floor, saying there was “no question” was “practically and morally responsible” for provoking the Jan. 6 riot by Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol while lawmakers worked to certify the results of the election.
“The people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their president,” McConnell said. “Having that belief was a foreseeable consequence of the growing crescendo of false statements, conspiracy theories and reckless hyperbole which the defeated president kept shouting into the largest megaphone on planet Earth.”
Trump, meanwhile, has said Republicans need to find a replacement for McConnell. He most recently bashed McConnell at an election-style rally in Iowa last Saturday, criticizing him and other Republican senators for voting with Democrats to temporarily raise the national debt ceiling.
“Mitch McConnell didn’t have the courage to challenge the election. He’s only a leader because he raises a lot of money and gives it to senators,” Trump said.
In response to a request for comment for this story, a McConnell spokesman said: “If we have anything to share we’ll be sure to let you know.”