Voices: Florida man fights most powerful Republican

·3-min read
McConnell’s feud with Rick Scott is causing problems  (Getty Images)
McConnell’s feud with Rick Scott is causing problems (Getty Images)

Rick Scott is tired of Republicans preemptively laying the blame on him. In the past few weeks, stories of the Florida Senator’s mismanagement of the National Republican Senatorial Committee have abounded – not least the tale of a trip to Italy in the middle of the campaign, in order to celebrate his 50th anniversary with his wife.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to openly doubt that Republicans can flip the Senate this year, bluntly saying that “candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome”. All of this shows that the GOP has little confidence in Scott, and is already setting him up to be the fall guy if Republicans flop in November.

On Thursday, Scott responded to the attacks on his candidacy. In an interview with Politico’s Burgess Everett, he explained that he and McConnell “clearly have a strategic disagreement here” and insisted that “we have great candidates.”

He also defended going to Italy, saying, “I hope everybody else has the same opportunity to be married to their best friend and their high school sweetheart for 50 years.” Cute? Absolutely. But maybe don’t plan a big anniversary trip on the other side of the globe when your party needs to defend Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Carolina just to break even.

As far as those “candidate quality” remarks, Scott brushed off responsibility. “The voters pick our candidates,” he said. This ignores the fact that almost all of the candidates in swing states – from Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania to Blake Masters in Arizona to Herschel Walker in Georgia to JD Vance in Ohio – won not because of an organic grassroots uprising but because former president Donald Trump endorsed them (or, in Walker’s case, argued he should run.)

Both Vance and Oz struggled badly before Trump’s backing, and the latter’s primary victory was narrow as they come. Scott’s NRSC, meanwhile, decided against endorsing candidates, likely a tactic to avoid rankling the MAGA faithful for the sake of preserving Scott’s own personal brand.

But if Scott was measured in his interview with Politico, he took a blowtorch to McConnell in an op-ed in the conservative Washington Examiner, bashing “self-appointed ‘smart guys’” and condemning trash-talking Republican candidates as “treasonous to the conservative cause”.

“Ultimately, though, when you complain and lament that we have ‘bad candidates,’ what you are really saying is that you have contempt for the voters who chose them,” he wrote. “Now we are at the heart of the matter. Much of Washington’s chattering class disrespects and secretly (or not so secretly) loathes Republican voters.”

This was a not-so-subtle swipe at McConnell, and essentially puts Scott on the side of the MAGA base – again. He was one of seven GOP Senators who voted to object to Pennsylvania’s electors on January 6 even after the riot at the Capitol, while McConnell didn’t object. Meanwhile, McConnell hasn’t spoken to Trump in more than a year.

But to borrow a Shakespearean line remixed for The Wire, if you come at the king, you best not miss. And now Scott has decided to retaliate, he has to actually back it up. Should he fail to hold all Republican Senate seats while also failing to flip at least one held by the Democrats to win his party the Senate majority, he risks serious retribution. (He does have one thing going for him, though: as an incredibly wealthy businessman, he won’t need to go begging NRSC donors or McConnell to fund a re-election campaign in 2024).

But ultimately, this blame game is about a lot more than Scott’s personal standing. The Senate GOP’s civil war could not come at a worse time: Labor Day marks the point at which most voters start paying attention – and every day that Scott and McConnell feud is another day they are not attacking Mark Kelly, Raphael Warnock, Catherine Cortez Masto, John Fetterman or Tim Ryan, all of whom not long ago looked eminently beatable.

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