Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) will be the next target of conservatives frustrated with party leadership, according to one of the conservative representatives who pressured House speaker John Boehner in the weeks leading up to his resignation.
“Next guy in the crosshairs will probably be McConnell,” Representative Matt Salmon (R., Ariz.) said in a text message to Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah), according to National Journal’s Sarah Mimms. Lee replied that he doubts that will happen.
Still, Salmon’s speculation reflects a theory of Boehner’s struggles that is common among the outgoing speaker’s friends and foes alike — that his unpopularity among the grassroots stems more from McConnell’s failure to take advantage of the Senate majority than anything House Republicans have done. If that’s true, then Boehner’s departure can hardly be expected to ease the tensions between GOP leadership and the conservative base or preempt more leadership fights in the future.
“People are frustrated with out Republican leadership, with Boehner and McConnell, and it’s not usually the third or fourth question that comes up — it’s the first question that comes up,” Representative Marlin Stutzman (R., Ind.), who voted against Boehner in January, told National Review last week. “It’s happening at tea-party events, but it’s [also] happened at Republican breakfasts, it’s happening at donor meetings — there’s a deep frustration.”
Representative Trent Franks holds the same view, but believes that it can be relieved by the elimination of the filibuster rather than a change in leadership. “Unfortunately, the Republican base and even many esoteric Republican observers are not truly cognizant of how the Democrats’ insidious use of the filibuster is beginning to tear the House conference apart,” Franks said.
#share#Frustration with the Democratic filibusters has sparked a new debate among GOP lawmakers over whether to use the nuclear option to eliminate the legislative stalling tactic. That’s unlikely to happen, given that McConnell and even conservative firebrands such as Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) believe it is an important safeguard of minority rights.
But it’s also unlikely that McConnell will face a serious leadership challenge — if he faces any challenge at all. Cruz offered a sustained denunciation of McConnell’s job performance on Thursday afternoon, but demurred three times when asked if he thought Senate Republicans need a new leader. “That is a question, at the end of the day, for the Republican conference. At least to date, the Republican conference has been willing to accept leadership’s handing control of the agenda over to Democrats,” Cruz told reporters. “I hope that changes. . . . I would be thrilled if Mitch McConnell would actually lead.”
— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.