Here Is Who Will Likely Replace McConnell As GOP Senate Leader

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Henry Rodgers Chief National Correspondent
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As the 81 year-old Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has had multiple health scares in the past two months, there is growing speculation as to who would take over as the GOP’s Senate leader if the Kentucky Republican can no longer serve in his role.

In July, McConnell appeared to freeze up during a weekly GOP press conference and had to be ushered away by other Senate Republicans. Just over one month later, McConnell froze up again during a press conference in Kentucky.

During the press conference in Kentucky, McConnell failed to respond after a reporter asked him his thoughts on “running for reelection in 2026.” The senator, who took office in 1985, attempted to mumble something before falling silent. After around 10 seconds of silence, an aide approached McConnell and asked if he’d heard the question. McConnell appeared to whisper “Yes” in response before falling silent again.

He has since then been cleared by the Capitol’s attending physician, Dr. Brian Monahan, who ruled out a stroke, seizure disorder, or signs of Parkinson’s disease. Despite the health scares, McConnell has said he will continue to serve as minority leader and will also serve out the rest of his Senate term.

The Daily Caller spoke with a number of Senate staffers, current and former, about a possible McConnell replacement and all of them were on the same page, saying that there will be no outsider who will challenge McConnell for leadership and win. The Caller granted anonymity to allow discussion on a sensitive topic.

“The alternative is really just a look-a-like in Cornyn or Thune. My understanding is that Thune is likely to really inherit the McConnell infrastructure and he seems to be the one that is likely to get it. At some point when McConnell does leave, in some form or fashion, I don’t think Cornyn is without a shot. I think he has a chance but I don’t see anybody else. I don’t see a viable outsider alternative coming into play,” a former Senate Chief of Staff told the Caller of Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and John Thune of South Dakota.

“I put the Senate maybe into three camps. So, there are strong McConnell allies. There are the people who don’t like McConnell and voted against him and are actual outsiders and there’s the folks in the middle. Frankly, a plurality of them were indifferent to McConnell, but afraid of their own shadow and will always support McConnell or whoever is the leader. There’s a process, if you will, and that is very likely to stay the same,” the former Senate Chief of Staff continued.

“I don’t think anyone is actually going to step up. Rick Scott stepped up, to his credit, but even if you had maybe someone who was more associated with the MAGA-Right or the populist realignment, I still don’t think it will make a difference because of that plurality people who don’t really do much, but always are willing to support the leadership and always support the establishment.”

A current Senate aide also said Thune or Cornyn would be the most likely options to succeed McConnell and even said that Thune is doing McConnell’s job for him currently.

“Thune and Cornyn are seen as the most natural successors. Right? Because they’re kind of doing the job right now to be totally candid. And Cornyn, you know has been in leadership. But I don’t think I don’t know that the field will be limited to just those two. I think there are a lot of senators I mean, this will be the first leadership election in 16 years,” the Senate aide said.

“I think there’s a number of senators eyeing the position… I don’t know that it would be an outsider necessarily. I’m thinking more like, you know, Joni Ernst or Steve Daines or something. I don’t know that Rick Scott will run again, I don’t think that the conference would elect an outsider necessarily,” the aide continued.

“They’ll never say it publicly, but privately, there’s a lot of unhappiness with how the conference has been run. I think people want to change how business has been done. Also, when you haven’t had a leadership challenge in that long. There’s obviously some catharsis that needs to happen,” the aide added.

Sen. John Thune (R-SD) speaks to the media following the weekly policy luncheons at the U.S. Capitol on June 21, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

“It’s Thune or Cornyn. I think McConnell world prefers Thune but Cornyn is a better fundraiser and legislator so I wouldn’t count him out,” a former Senate aide told the Caller.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) walks with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) as they leave the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol on January 23, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“Someone might but the rules are rigged. If it was a plurality vote, someone might do it and could win but at some point it will be a head to head vote and McConnell will make sure he has the votes to get whatever moderate he can get,” the former aide added. (RELATED: McConnell Literally Freezes Mid-Speech, Ushered Away From Podium In Bizarre Incident)

Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley has been the only Senate Republican thus far to say he does not believe McConnell should be the leader and said he is concerned about his ability to do his job.

“If you’re concerned about the president’s ability to do his job and I am, and a lot of Republicans say they are, then you’ve got to be concerned when it’s somebody of your own party,” Hawley told reporters Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Republican Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who is a doctor, has said he does not believe Monahan’s diagnosis was valid. (RELATED: McConnell Freezes Up Again Mid-Speech During Press Conference)

“Obviously not being in the position — not seeing the X-rays, not seeing the radiology — I can really only comment, I guess, on what they have released,” Paul told reporters Tuesday. “And they have the Senate doctor saying he has a normal EEG … The problem with saying someone has a normal EEG and saying they’re not having seizures is that people who have short seizures, well over 80% of them have normal EEGs. If you’re having longer seizures, you’re more likely, but even then only about half of them have abnormal EEGs. An EEG that’s done at one time on an office visit often will miss things. Even a 24-hour EEG might miss things.”

“Everybody’s seen the clips,” Paul continued. “It’s not a valid medical diagnosis for people to say that’s dehydration.” (RELATED: Rick Scott Announces Challenge To Mitch McConnell As Senate GOP Leader)

The Caller contacted McConnell’s office about a possible replacement for Minority Leader, to which they did not immediately respond.