Rick Scott announced plans to challenge Mitch McConnell for the leadership of the Senate Republican conference Tuesday, prompting McConnell to predict: "I have the votes, I will be elected."
Scott (R-Fla.), who chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee for this election, is mounting his challenge after Republicans failed to retake control of the Senate, despite widespread sentiment that they could.
McConnell confidently predicted Scott will lose. "I have the votes, I will be elected," McConnell told reporters on Capitol Hill after a GOP caucus meeting that ran for nearly four hours.
Most observers -- including McConnell -- blame the failure to take back the Senate -- in a year that should have favored the out-of-power party --on the sorts of Republican candidates who were favored by Scott and de facto GOP leader Donald Trump over more moderate challengers.
McConnell, in defending his role, pointed specifically to challengers Blake Masters in Arizona and Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, both of whom were backed by Trump and denied the former president lost to Joe Biden in 2020.
"We underperformed among independents and moderates because their impression of many of the people in our party in leadership roles is that they're [engaged in] chaos, negativity, excessive attacks," McConnell said.
"It frightened independent and moderate Republican voters," McConnell said. "In two states for example, they were just crushed by independent voters -- Arizona and New Hampshire."
But Scott and some others aligned with Trump argue that Senate Republicans under McConnell were simply too timid.
"I believe it’s time for the Senate Republican Conference to be far more bold and resolute than we have been in the past," Scott said in a letter to colleagues. "We must start saying what we are for, not just what we are against. I do not believe we can simply continue to say the Democrats are radical, which they are. Republican voters expect and deserve to know our plan to promote and advance conservative values."
McConnell said the GOP contenders expressed "quite clearly" what they were for. The problem he said was not the message, but the messengers, such and Bolduc and Masters, not to mention Mehmet Oz, who lost convincingly to Democratic Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in the Senate race there.
"The perception many [independent voters] had. was that we were not dealing with issues in a responsible way and we were spending too much time on negativity and attacks and chaos, McConnell said. "They were frightened, and so they pulled back."
McConnell reminded reporters that he said in August that the quality of candidates mattered.
Scott is unlikely to beat McConnell, who said the only real uncertainty was whether the conference votes Wednesday or at some later date.
The Floridian did pick up at least one supporter in Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley.
"You don't lose an election like this without making, I think, some change," Hawley told reporters. I mean, we don't change, what do you tell the voters? We're gonna do the same thing? You’re not trusting us to lead, and we're going to do the same thing?"
Hawley, who was infamously captured raising his fist in support of protesters on Jan. 6, echoed Scott is arguing that Republicans lost in the key states because they didn't go hard enough
"I think that independent voters who stayed home rather than vote for Republicans, they probably do think that our system is rigged, but I think they probably think it's rigged against them," Hawley said. "So I think that people think that there's issues with our elections. I'm sure they do, but they think that the system of government is rigged, I bet those voters do. Republicans have got to talk about why it matters to them, to these voters. And my view is we didn’t. Sure we asked for their vote. We didn't give them anything to vote for."