A majority of the Senate Republican Conference has now endorsed Donald Trump’s comeback presidential bid.
But just one of the three potential successors to Mitch McConnell as Senate GOP leader is among them.
The “Three Johns,” as they’re known, are positioning themselves for the job in unique ways. Of course, McConnell could still decide to seek another term as party leader. But whoever wins the nod will need to work closely with Trump if he’s elected again — especially if Republicans win the Senate majority in November. It’s hard to see the 81-year-old McConnell, already the longest-serving party leader in Senate history, staying in that role if Trump is back in the Oval Office, so this issue becomes even more high-profile.
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, endorsed Trump earlier this month, becoming the highest-ranking GOP senator to do so. Senate Minority Whip John Thune doubled down last week on his concerns about Trump’s viability in a general election. And Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who has cast similar doubt about Trump, said he’ll do “whatever it takes” to prevent President Joe Biden from winning a second term.
In general, Barrasso is viewed as the most conservative of the Three Johns. He’s had a close working relationship with Trump. Barrasso’s endorsement of Trump distinguishes him from Thune and Cornyn and puts him in a stronger position to succeed McConnell under a potential Trump presidency.
Thune initially endorsed Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) in the presidential race. When Scott dropped out, Thune said he didn’t have plans to make an endorsement in the near future. Of course, Thune has had a rough go of it with the former president. Trump tried to gin up a primary challenge to Thune after the South Dakota Republican criticized his efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
We asked Thune whether it would be challenging to work with a future President Trump if he’s the Senate GOP leader.
“Whoever the people of this country elect — and if it’s President Trump – we will work with him. I’ve done that in the past. We had some big successes,” Thune told us, noting that Trump recognized him by name during a White House event celebrating the passage of the 2017 GOP tax bill.
“It’s gonna be up to the voters, but when they make their decision, we’ll take whatever outcome they give us and work with [him] for the good of the country,” added Thune, who’s seen by many GOP senators as the frontrunner to succeed McConnell.
After Trump won the Iowa caucuses, Thune reiterated his doubts about Trump’s ability to win a general election, noting that they’re won “in the middle of the electorate.”
“All of that has repercussions for Senate races, too,” Thune added. “If we want to get the majority, we need a strong showing at the top of the ticket that translates into some down-ballot success. So it’s all connected.”
Of course, many Senate Republicans believe Trump is the reason they lost winnable races in the 2020 and 2022 cycles. Count Thune and Cornyn in that camp.
But when asked if he’s still doubtful about Trump’s electability, Cornyn seemed to soften his position, saying: “He looks like he’s pretty well right now. And it looks like [President Joe] Biden is at a historic low.”
Cornyn was the GOP whip during the first two years of the Trump presidency when Republicans passed the tax bill that Trump heralds as one of his top achievements. This was also the period in which the Senate confirmed Trump’s first two Supreme Court picks, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
— Andrew Desiderio