Speed Reads

Not so fast

Prominent conservatives pump the brakes on McConnell and McCarthy's GOP Leadership dreams

Still reeling from what has widely been seen as an underwhelming showing in this year's midterm elections, congressional Republicans are now facing a growing movement to delay the scheduled leadership votes that will determine who will set the GOP agenda in the coming legislative session. 

In a letter obtained by outgoing Axios reporter Jonathan Swan on Monday, a slate of conservative notables "strongly" urged House and Senate Republicans to postpone choosing their respective caucus leaders until after the Georgia runoff election is decided on December 6. Citing the need for GOP leaders who will "confidently and skillfully present a persuasive coherent vision" for the party's future, the letter is notable not just for what it says, but for who is saying it; signatories include Mark Meadows, onetime chief of staff to former President Donald Trump, and Ginni Thomas, wife of conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. All told, the dozens of conservative notables behind the letter represent a major nexus of right-wing influence and finance at the highest levels. 

Calls for leadership election delays have grown stronger from within Congress as well. While prospective speaker Kevin McCarthy's (R-Calif.) leadership bid has been complicated by growing dissent within his caucus ranks over the GOP's razor-thin majority in the coming term, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has also begun receiving pushback from his colleagues, most recently including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) who claimed on Sunday evening that not delaying a leadership vote would be "disrespectful" to Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker.

Unlike McCarthy, McConnell's role hasn't been directly challenged by his fellow senators to date. However, President Trump has renewed calls to oust the longtime Senate leader in the wake of the midterms. Though at the moment it seems unlikely McConnell — widely regarded as the most effective conservative tactician in decades — will actually be removed from his leadership position, Trump's invectives have exacerbated the growing rift within the party among MAGA-aligned lawmakers angered over what they deem an unforgivable failure on the part of establishment GOP figures in the last election, and with an eye towards 2024, as well. Should Republican senators once again elect McConnell as leader, he may enter the coming legislative term expending more energy than ever before on maintaining fragile unity within a caucus nevertheless headed toward an unavoidable ideological schism.