The biggest campaign story recently wasn’t Mitch McConnell’s warning that Republicans might not retake the Senate in November. That’s been clear since the party nominated so many candidates whose main advantage was support from Donald Trump. The big story was that those candidates are now calling on McConnell to come to their rescue.
Exhibit A is Ohio, where the Super Pac allied with McConnell, the Senate Leadership Fund, is committing $28 million to save GOP nominee J.D. Vance. The “Hillbilly Elegy” author won the primary in a divided field after Trump endorsed him. But Vance has struggled to raise money from the GOP donor network he disdained as he courted the populist right. That worked in the primary, but it may not be enough to win in November.
Ohio should be a layup for the GOP this year. The Senate seat is currently held by Rob Portman, who is retiring after two terms. The state has been trending right and Trump carried it by 8 percentage points. But Democrat Tim Ryan, a member of the House, is portraying himself as a moderate despite a liberal voting record and has out-raised the Republican. Thus Vance’s SOS to McConnell.
There’s no little irony in this appeal since Vance criticized Senate GOP leaders as he ran in the primary. In a podcast last September, Vance said he had “no idea who should be the majority leader of the Senate.” …
But he added that “I think that McConnell has clearly shown that he’s sometimes a little out of touch with where the base is. … 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. And I think, it’s just, we’ve got to do it. We’ve got to bring some new blood in. We’ve got to get people that the base is actually excited about.” Apparently the “very old leadership class” has its uses when the “new blood” needs money.
Blake Masters, another Trump-backed nominee, is also counting on McConnell to save his campaign. “I think (McConnell will) come in and spend. Arizona’s gonna be competitive. It’s gonna be a close race, and I hope he does come in,” Masters told the Associated Press last week. Trailing Sen. Mark Kelly in the polls, Masters needs the minority leader’s help.
During the GOP primary, Masters called for McConnell to be replaced as leader. “I’ll tell Mitch this to his face,” Masters said during a GOP primary debate in June. “He’s not bad at everything. He’s good at judges. He’s good at blocking Democrats. You know what he’s not good at? Legislating.”
These better-call-Mitch appeals are happening at the same time Trump’s allies are attacking McConnell for telling the truth last week about GOP Senate prospects this year. The minority leader mentioned “candidate quality” as a factor in Senate campaigns, which is also true. Only the willfully blind can look at several of the Trump-endorsed nominees this year and claim they were the strongest candidates in the general election.
Arizona is a good example. … Trump vowed to defeat the popular two-term GOP Gov. Doug Ducey if he ran for Senate because Ducey wouldn’t work to overturn Trump’s 2020 defeat in the state. Trump also trashed the capable attorney general, Mark Brnovich, who ran and lost. The former President backed Masters, a political novice supported by financier Peter Thiel. But Trump’s support may hurt more than help in the general election, and he has been reluctant to share his financial campaign wealth with others.
Trump has shown he can help candidates win primaries with a plurality of the vote in a crowded field. What he hasn’t shown is that he can lift them to victory against Democrats in states that aren’t solidly Republican. He proved the opposite with his sabotage of the two GOP candidates in the January 2021 special elections in Georgia that cost Republicans control of the Senate.
That’s why the candidates he favors are now desperately seeking the help of McConnell, the leader Trump wants to replace.