Florida Senator Rick Scott made it official on Tuesday: He will run for Senate Republican leader against Mitch McConnell.
This may seem strange at first glance. After all, Scott ran the Senate Republican campaign in the midterm elections and, well, the party didn’t win control of the Senate. So, a strange 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 re-elected as Senate Republican leader.)
Here are three main reasons why Scott is up for this quixotic challenge:
1) Scott wants McConnell to cower. Scott and McConnell have a history with each other. When Scott released his policy plan to “bail out America” earlier this year, McConnell pointedly rejected the proposals included. Asked what the Republican agenda would be, McConnell coyly replied, “That’s a very good question and I’ll let you know when we get it. [the Senate] back”. Scott remained adamant that the Republican nominees for the Senate should be for a set of policy proposals, not just against President Joe Biden and the Democrats. He was as convinced as McConnell that by releasing a concrete plan, Scott was giving the Democrats a box to smash all the Republicans. It is worth noting that Biden regularly referred to Scott’s plan – which, among other things, would roll back government programs such as Social Security and Medicare after five years – in the last part of his term.
McConnell and Scott clashed again after the Senate minority leader suggested in August that the “quality of the candidates” had the potential to hinder Republicans’ chances of regaining the Senate majority. “If the Democrats want to trash talk our candidates to help you, get off,” Scott said in response. “That’s not what leaders do. And the Republicans have to be the leaders that make up the team and they have to do everything they can to get the whole 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 the blame. When you’re the head of the GOP’s Senate campaign arm and you don’t get the one seat you need to win the majority, you’re usually in a position to blame. But Scott has worked very hard to assign that blame to McConnell. “The Senate Republican leadership is saying, ‘No, you can’t have a plan. We’re going to go against how bad the Democrats are and actually they’re going to fall to the Democrats,'” Scott said on Fox News over the weekend. This challenge to McConnell is just an extension of that blame game. Scott wants to make sure 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 supported by Republicans in Washington and outside of Washington. And one way to ensure that your side is heard is to take on the guy you think is really guilty.
3) Scott wants to make Donald Trump happy. Scott knows he won’t beat McConnell in the vote of all Republican senators. And he also knows that he will defeat the eternal enemy of McConnell and his allies by challenging the leader. But this move is really for one audience: Donald Trump. Scott certainly has national ambition. What better way to listen to, say, the vice president than to confront the Republican whom Trump chastises almost daily? Even if he loses, Scott looks like Trump’s principled warrior, ready to stand up to 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).