Trump won't get to handpick McConnell's successor — just look at what happened to Jim Jordan

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  • Mitch McConnell is stepping down, and Republican senators have months to decide who succeeds him.

  • The end of his reign marks a shift in the GOP, but Trump won't get to fully decide the next leader.

  • Trump backed Jim Jordan's House-speaker bid in October. It crashed and burned anyway.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's reign will end later this year, and there's already plenty of speculation about the role former President Donald Trump will play in choosing the next Senate GOP leader.

It's still very early in the race, and it's unclear how many contenders will emerge — the election won't likely happen until November.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas — one of the "three Johns" who have long been considered to be potential McConnell successors — announced his candidacy Thursday morning, the first to do so.

But one thing's certain: Trump is not going to hand-pick the next Senate GOP leader.

That's not to say Trump's endorsement, or at least having a strong working relationship with him, will be worthless — it will be quite important, given that he is all but certain to be the party's presidential nominee, and if he defeats Biden in November, he'll be the next president.

And the departure of McConnell — who now has essentially no relationship with Trump and has yet to endorse the former president — is certainly a sign of the decline of an older generation of conservativism within the GOP.

But there are several factors to consider when assessing the role that Trump will play in choosing McConnell's successor, many of which can be gleaned from the chaotic succession battle that House Republicans endured after the ousting of Speaker Kevin McCarthy in October.

GOP senators will almost certainly elect their leader through a secret ballot

That's how it's typically been done — behind closed doors and out of the public eye.

It's how they dealt with the first-ever challenge to McConnell's leadership bid last November, when the Kentucky Republican defeated Sen. Rick Scott of Florida by a 37-10 margin.

While many senators have publicly stated how they voted, there's still no official account of who voted for Scott.

Trump's power comes from his sway over GOP base voters, not so much his relationships on Capitol Hill.

Some GOP senators have likely endorsed Trump because they don't want to cross their voters, not because they personally feel he is the best candidate for president.

When voters don't have to know how senators vote, that pressure is significantly diminished.

Trump couldn't seal the deal for Jim Jordan, even when the vote was public

It may feel like ancient history now, but House Republicans struggled for three weeks in October to choose a speaker.

One of those candidates was Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a staunch Trump ally who won the former president's backing early.

But it wasn't enough. House Republicans first chose House Majority Leader Steve Scalise to be their candidate, and when he dropped out, many thought the nomination was Jordan's for the taking.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio addressing reporters amid his ill-fated speakership bid in October 2023.
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio addresses reporters amid his ill-fated speakership bid in October.Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

And when Jordan took the vote to the House floor, he lost — publicly — over the course of three successive votes as he faced a revolt from Republicans opposed to his bare-knuckle brand of politics.

It's all the more striking when you consider that Trump carries more sway over members of the House than the Senate, in part because House members face voters every two years.

The Ohio Republican later dropped out after putting up the worst showing for a speaker candidate since the Civil War.

So how much does Trump matter really?

It will depend on what happens in the presidential election, which will almost certainly take place before Republican senators vote on their next leader.

If he wins, Trump has something akin to a veto — if he really doesn't want a particular candidate to become the next Senate GOP leader, it's going to be a problem for that person.

That's the lesson one might draw from House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, who ended his own speakership bid just four hours after winning the nomination because Trump called him a "RINO."

It will be important for the eventual GOP leader to demonstrate that they could work with Trump if he's elected, but it won't be the only thing.

GOP senators will be looking for someone who also ticks other more institutional boxes, including being a prodigious fundraiser, having a good sense of the internal politics of the conference, and being able to make changes to the way the party approaches politics.

For an early example of this, consider Cornyn's statement on entering the speaker's race.

While the Texas Republican briefly mentions helping Trump "advance his agenda" as the party's whip, most of his appeal stems from other factors, including the role he could play in helping the party gain Senate seats and his plans to reform the way the chamber operates.

Correction: March 1, 2024 — An earlier version of this story misstated the month the House GOP selected a new speaker. It happened in October, not August.

Read the original article on Business Insider