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Richard Mourdock hasn’t even been elected to the Senate and he’s already calling for its leadership to be more conservative. But if Republicans regain control of the chamber on the back of the tea party, it could make the job of governing nearly impossible for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
The appeal from the Indiana Republican — fresh off his primary victory over six-term Sen. Dick Lugar — is not new. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) has been trying for years to force his Conference to the right. But if Republicans succeed in switching McConnell’s title from Minority Leader to Majority Leader, the caucus will likely be torn between tea party demands to eschew compromise and the need to govern with the help of Democrats.
After all, McConnell’s majority — if he wins one — is not expected to be a
filibuster-proof 60 votes. The GOP needs to net four seats to win a 51-vote majority, and many political prognosticators don’t believe they can snag more than six.
So Mourdock and DeMint’s insistence on “changing leadership” in the party raises the question of how McConnell will navigate a more conservative caucus without encountering the same pitfalls and policy failures that have plagued Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) this Congress.
“Our leadership can only go as far as their Conference will let them go. And I think if we have a conservative and committed caucus, then I think our leadership can move us in that direction,” DeMint said Wednesday. “But as long as we’re divided, as long as some keep wanting to bring back earmarks and some don’t, it’s very hard for our leadership to lead.”
The reality, however, is that those divisions are likely to continue to exist, regardless of who controls the Senate or even the White House. Even the most conservative veteran lawmakers differ in approach from their tea party freshman counterparts.
It will be McConnell’s job to show attentiveness to the conservative cause while also keeping his Conference under control.
“McConnell is a very good Minority Leader. He knows how this place functions ... [but] his biggest strength is his ability to make sure Republicans don’t shoot themselves in the foot, and that would come in handy as Majority Leader,” one Republican aide said.