Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has found just the man to continue his rein in D.C.’s swamp: Governor Phil Bryant.
Amid swirling rumors of Sen. Thad Cochran’s imminent departure from the Senate, McConnell is once again flexing his muscles in favor of his preferred replacement for the ailing Cochran.
Sen. McConnell hosted Governor Phil Bryant as his guest to the President’s State of the Union address on Tuesday. The two dined before attending the speech, and according to sources of the Washington Post, a discussion of the Cochran seat was on the table.
McConnell, fearing Senator Chris McDaniel would be formidable in a special election in November, is pushing Bryant to appoint himself to the seat.
The reason is clear: Stop McDaniel.
Breitbart reports McConnell is “very worried” about a possible McDaniel challenge to Roger Wicker, especially since McDaniel has been a persistent critic of the majority leader and has vowed not to support him if he is elected to a Senate seat. Why? McConnell is not a conservative and does not support a conservative reform agenda. McDaniel believes it’s time for new leadership, and McConnell’s failure to repeal Obamacare and fund the wall are two conspicuous examples, among many others.
Given these troubles, could McConnell be more worried about a special election for Cochran’s seat rather than a McDaniel challenge to Wicker?
If Cochran resigned this year, a special election for the remainder of the Senate term would be held on November 6. But, unlike a regular election, there would be no primary, all declared candidates would be on the ballot without a party designation, and if no candidate gains more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two would move to a runoff.
As the Washington Post has noted, “That could provide an easier route for McDaniel to win a seat than running directly against Wicker, a popular incumbent who has the support of Trump.” And it is just such a scenario that has McConnell worried and explains why he’s injecting himself in Mississippi politics.
There is a bit of a dilemma for a possible McConnell-Bryant appointment plan, however. Bryant can’t simply appoint himself, at least according to the state constitution. He would have to resign first, then have Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, who would occupy the Governor’s chair upon Bryant’s resignation, make the appointment. And, complicating it further, sources say Bryant does not want the Senate seat but would rather finish out his term in the Governor’s mansion.
McConnell’s defenders maintain he did not interfere Alabama last year, even the Post, which wrote that “the behind-the-scenes maneuvering over Mississippi reflects his attempt to avoid the calamity of the Alabama Senate race. Last year, conservative firebrand Roy Moore stunned establishment Sen. Luther Strange in the Alabama primary runoff, then lost the longtime GOP-held Senate seat to Democrat Doug Jones.” But McConnell did interfere.
Establishment forces, led by McConnell, wanted to defend Luther Strange, appointed after the resignation of Jeff Sessions. But two Republicans joined the race to face Strange in a party primary – Roy Moore and Mo Brooks. Seeing Brooks, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, as the more dangerous foe, McConnell engineered millions of dollars in attack ads against him. Brooks finished third behind Moore and Strange, failing to make a runoff. McConnell then turned his money machine on Moore to save Strange but was beaten by 10 points, despite tens of millions in negative attack ads thrown at Moore.
Now that Alabama is over, McConnell is eyeing the Magnolia state with different tactics. If he could possibly get Bryant to name himself, despite the complications, at least in McConnell’s mind the seat is safe, freeing him up to dump tons of money into a scheme to protect Wicker against McDaniel.
Make no mistake, McConnell’s ultimate goal is Establishment control of the Senate and to do that he must attack conservative firebrands to keep them out. But the majority leader, who has no interest in pushing a true conservative agenda or enacting meaningful reforms, has abysmal approval ratings. In one poll in October, he was rated as the most unpopular United States Senator. He’s downright hated by the conservative base and seems to be losing control, which he is desperate to maintain at all costs.
So his next target is Mississippi. “McConnell’s doing his best to find someone he thinks can hold off a strong challenger. But, I just think the people want to have their say,” McDaniel told the Washington Post. Indeed. The last thing the people of Mississippi need is Mitch McConnell telling them how to handle their business.