Opinion

Are the GOP's Senate candidates a problem?

The sharpest opinions on the debate from around the web

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said recently that Republicans might not win back control of the Senate in the November midterms as they once expected, and he blamed the quality of the candidates the party was nominating. On Monday, he gave the GOP a 50-50 chance of regaining a majority in the chamber, now evenly split but controlled by Democrats with Vice President Kamala Harris' tie-breaking vote. "We've got a 50-50 Senate right now. We've got a 50-50 nation. And I think the outcome is likely to be very, very close either way," McConnell said. 

Former President Donald Trump, who has endorsed many of the GOP candidates who have won the party's Senate primaries, angrily called the party's longtime Senate leader a "broken down political hack." Trump has been backing candidates, like Blake Masters in Arizona, who have embraced his false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him through voter fraud. Republicans have won races in swing states, and even Democratic strongholds, when they ran moderate candidates, but polls show that Trump-backed conservatives are having a hard time in the polls. Are GOP primary voters picking nominees who will help them take over the Senate, or are they backing candidates whose ties to Trump will be a liability in the general election?

McConnell is right

Republicans clearly have a better chance to take the House than the Senate, says Harry Enten at CNN. At the beginning of 2022, Democrats "were clear underdogs" in the November fight for control of the Senate due to "the normal midterm backlash against the president's party." Now they're in a far better position, and the quality of GOP candidates is a big reason. Just look at Arizona and Wisconsin. President Biden won both states by just one percentage point in 2020, and Trump carried them in 2016. But in recent polls, Sen. Mark Kelly, the Democratic incumbent in Arizona, led Republican Blake Masters by eight points. Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the Democratic challenger in Wisconsin, led incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson by seven points in one poll, and four points in another. A big reason for the GOP's troubles is that both Republicans are "underwater" in their favorability ratings, offsetting Biden's low approval marks.

Actually, McConnell is the problem

The GOP does have a "quality" problem, says Jeff Crouere at Townhall.com. It's the poor quality of McConnell's leadership, and his failure to focus on defeating a Democratic Party "that is hell bent on ruining the country." McConnell should be rallying Republicans to fight the drug crisis, and focusing on "our poor economy, rampant crime, and our constitutional rights, which are being continually attacked during the Biden presidency." Instead, he's worried "about fighting the MAGA agenda and sending billions of dollars" to Ukraine to fight Russia, while "2,250 people in Kentucky died of drug overdoses last year." McConnell is a creature of the Washington Swamp, who "supports moderate Republican candidates" in the image of Sen. Mitt Romney and members of the Bush family. "Republicans will never succeed in remaking our government and fixing our problems with people like McConnell in U.S. Senate leadership positions."  

McConnell only has himself to blame for the rise of Trumpy candidates

McConnell has good reason to fear "this batch of bozos might dash GOP dreams of a Senate majority," says Eric Lutz in Vanity Fair. Most of "Trump's handpicked contenders" have major weaknesses — from Pennsylvania GOP Senate hopeful former TV doctor Mehmet Oz, "who apparently believes raw asparagus belongs in crudité," to Georgia candidate Herschel Walker, a former football star "whose own campaign staff reportedly regards him as a 'pathological liar.'" Oz, thanks partly to his clumsy campaign, is "losing ground in Pennsylvania" to media-savvy Democrat John Fetterman, and Walker, who has been hampered by past domestic violence allegations, is trailing incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock in Georgia. Then there's Blake Masters in Arizona, "who literally has the backing of some of the Internet's most well-known white nationalists" (despite his attempts to distance himself from them). The thing is, McConnell could "take a stand" against the "Trumpier figures in their party." But he won't, so, in reality, he "only has himself to blame for the rise of these dangerous weirdos."

Mitch couldn't stop these candidates, but he can help them win

These Trump-backed Republicans needed Trump to win their primaries, says The Wall Street Journal in an editorial, but now they need McConnell. Take J.D. Vance, the Hillbilly Elegy author who won the Ohio primary in a divided field after Trump backed him. "Ohio should be a layup for the GOP this year." Republican Sen. Rob Portman is retiring after two terms, and the state has been trending right, with Trump carrying it by eight points. But Vance has struggled to win over GOP donors "he disdained as he courted the populist right," so the McConnell-allied Super Pac the Senate Leadership Fund is committing $28 million "to save" him. Blake Masters, who called for McConnell's replacement as Senate leader during the primary, also is sending out a plea for his help heading into the general election. Trump can help candidates win in a crowded primary field, but they need McConnell's support to "lift them to victory against Democrats in states that aren't solidly Republican." 

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