Last fall Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell threw all his electoral muscle behind Luther Strange in Alabama’s GOP primary, only to see him easily defeated by ultraconservative theocrat Roy Moore. Then the situation took a turn from bad to disastrous when multiple women accused Moore of molesting them as teenagers, prompting McConnell to float a number of wacky schemes, including forcing a new election. Ultimately Republicans opted not to try any likely unconstitutional maneuvers, and the seat in the deep-red state went to Democrat Doug Jones.
McConnell does not intend to let this happen again, so he appears to be plotting to hold a seat that hasn’t even opened up yet. Mississippi senator Thad Cochran has been hospitalized at least twice in the past six months, and went home for several weeks in the fall to recover from a urinary tract infection. The 80-year-old has appeared frail since his return, sparking rumors that he might soon step down.
Cochran aides say there are no imminent plans to announce his retirement, but nevertheless, McConnell made a pitch this week to the man he’d like to see in the seat. According to the Washington Post, McConnell asked Mississippi governor Phil Bryant to consider appointing himself to the seat.
McConnell wooed Bryant by dining with him before the State of the Union this week, and taking him to the event as his guest. The Clarion Ledger reports that President Trump encouraged Bryant to consider the idea as well — but sources told the paper that the governor isn’t interested. (A handful of governors have had themselves appointed to the Senate, but it rarely ends well.)
“Governor Bryant was honored to meet with Senator McConnell on Tuesday to discuss infrastructure and a range of issues important to Mississippi and America. Those conversations will remain private,” Bryant spokesman Clay Chandler said. “The governor, like many Mississippians, thinks Senator Cochran’s service has made our state stronger.”
There might be less unseemly jockeying for Cochran’s seat if McConnell foe Chris McDaniel wasn’t waiting in the wings. The state senator and attorney made an unsuccessful attempt to primary Cochran in 2014, and he’s made it clear he still hopes to seek higher office. He reportedly asked Bryant aides to consider him for an appointment to Cochran’s seat, but they told him that’s unlikely.
McDaniel had been mulling a run against the state’s other U.S. senator, Roger Wicker, who’s up for reelection this year. McDaniel was expected to announce his plans in January — and only has until March 1 to file — but he told the Post he put off the decision “because of the multiple options” before him, adding, “It’s a really fortunate time for me and I’m incredibly blessed to have these options.”
Elections for either Senate seat would take place on November 6, 2018, but going for Cochran’s seat would likely be easier, as there would be no primary (if no candidate topped 50 percent, there would be a runoff).
McConnell has other options for positioning a strong GOP Establishment figure to run for Cochran’s seat. And while the Majority Leader might not want to see McDaniel in the Senate, it probably wouldn’t be as painful as choosing between a respectable Democrat and an Republican alleged child sex predator. McDaniel embarrassed the Republican Party in the past by retweeting white supremacists and making wild election fraud claims, but nowadays they’re much more tolerant of that sort of behavior.