Florida Sen. Rick Scott made it official on Tuesday: He is going to run for Senate Republican leader against Mitch McConnell.
Which, at first glance, may seem sort of odd. After all, Scott was the head of the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm in the midterm elections and, well, the party didn’t win control the Senate. So, sort of an odd time to ask for a promotion, right?
But there is a logic behind Scott’s move – even if it is almost certainly doomed. (McConnell said Tuesday that he has the votes he needs to be reelected as Senate Republican leader.)
Here are three major reasons why Scott is taking on this quixotic challenge:
1) Scott wants to make McConnell squirm. Scott and McConnell have history with each other. When Scott released a policy plan “to rescue America” earlier this year, McConnell was openly dismissive of the proposals it contained. Asked what the Republican agenda would be, McConnell responded coyly: “That is a very good question and I’ll let you know when we take [the Senate] back.” Scott remained adamant that Senate Republican candidates needed to be for a set of policy proposals, not just against President Joe Biden and the Democrats. McConnell was just as convinced that by releasing a specific plan, Scott was handing Democrats a cudgel with which to smash all Republicans. It’s worth noting that Biden regularly mentioned Scott’s plan – which, among other, things would have sunsetted government programs like Social Security and Medicare after five years – in the final stretch of the midterms.
McConnell and Scott clashed again after the Senate minority leader suggested in August that “candidate quality” had the potential to hinder Republican chances of retaking the Senate majority. “If you want to trash-talk our candidates to help the Democrats, pipe down,” said Scott in response. “That’s not what leaders do. And Republicans need to be leaders that build up the team and do everything they can to get the entire team over the finish line.” (McConnell was right: poor candidates in places like Arizona and New Hampshire clearly cost Republicans in the election.)
2) Scott wants to pass off the blame. When you are the head of the GOP’s Senate campaign arm and you fall short of netting the one seat you need to win the majority, well, you are usually in line to be blamed. But Scott has been working very hard to hand that blame pie to McConnell. “The leadership in the Republican Senate says, ‘No, you cannot have a plan. We’re just going to run against how bad the Democrats are’ and actually then they cave in to the Democrats,” Scott said on Fox News over the weekend. This challenge to McConnell is simply an extension of that blame game. Scott wants to ensure that his voice is heard when it comes to the postmortem report of what happened in the election. He doesn’t want McConnell’s narrative to be the one that is accepted by Republicans inside and outside of Washington. And one way to guarantee your side gets heard is to take on the guy who you think is really to blame.
3) Scott wants to make Donald Trump happy. Scott knows he isn’t going to beat McConnell in a vote of all the Republican senators. And he also knows he will earn the forever enmity of McConnell and his allies by challenging the leader. But this move is really for an audience of one: Donald Trump. Scott has, without question, national ambition. What better way to audition for, say, the vice presidency than take on the Republican that Trump castigates nearly every day? Even in losing, Scott looks like the principled warrior for Trump – willing to stand up to the establishment forces and say “no more.” The end result, which will likely be lopsided for McConnell, is almost beside the point. It’s the willingness to run that will matter to Trump (or so Scott hopes).