Mitch McConnell begins the new year with his hold on the Senate, and on his own party, loosening by the hour.
A pair of runoff elections in Georgia tomorrow could end the Kentucky Republican’s six-year reign as majority leader, and on Wednesday, he’ll have to watch as nearly a quarter of his members challenge the clear results of the presidential election in defiance of McConnell’s explicit wishes. Democrats and Republicans alike have warned that the effort, led by Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri, while doomed to fail, is a worrisome sign of a fraying commitment to democracy among a significant portion of the GOP. More troubling still is the realization that these Republican senators are not acting simply out of personal loyalty to President Donald Trump, but as representatives of a sizable constituency of Americans who are unwilling to accept an electoral defeat. Regardless of the outcome of their effort, the stunt will make subverting the will of voters easier for the next would-be authoritarian.
That may be true in the long term, but the more immediate challenge is to McConnell and the considerable sway he’s held over Senate Republicans. McConnell’s influence during the Biden administration will depend on his ability to keep Republicans unified—whether to block a progressive agenda in the majority or to stifle the new president using the Senate filibuster in the minority. But three weeks before Biden’s inauguration, McConnell’s conference is splintering over the outgoing president, with a growing faction of Trump loyalists willing to ignore the majority leader’s pleas.