Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. Read more opinion on CNN.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s brutal assessment last week was that Republicans may not win back the Senate in 2022 because of a lack of “candidate quality.”
“I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate,” McConnell said at a Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Florence, Kentucky.
“Senate races are just different. They’re statewide,” he added. “Candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.”
It was not just an acknowledgement of the GOP’s challenges in trying to take back control of the evenly divided chamber. It was also a shrewd way for McConnell to put former President Donald Trump’s political future on this November’s ballot. And given current polls, prospects for Trump and some of his hand-picked Senate candidates in key battleground states are looking gloomier than some prognosticators might have predicted.
Many rightly viewed McConnell’s comments as a dig at Trump for his very public backing of several flawed Senate candidates in the GOP primaries who are now trailing in the polls. It also explains why Trump’s stalwart media ally Sean Hannity used his Fox News show Friday night to slam McConnell for his remarks.
First, Hannity criticized McConnell for failing to have an “agenda” and allegedly leaving Trump’s candidates “out to dry and fend for themselves.”
But then the Fox News host laid out what he thought was the real problem with the GOP Senate leader’s remarks: “Maybe Mitch McConnell hates Donald Trump so much that he would probably rather see Trump-endorsed candidates lose, because he thinks that might hurt Donald Trump?”
Bingo! Hannity finally got something right. Trump’s Senate picks are floundering, and McConnell is laying the blame at the former President’s door.
And if those Senate candidates were to lose in swing states, it would likely hurt Trump politically as he gears up for a possible 2024 GOP presidential bid. After all, if Trump goes all in for these Senate candidates in 2022 and they are rejected in battleground states, his clout within the party will be substantially weakened.
It’s no secret McConnell and Trump are not BFFs. McConnell did not vote to convict Trump during his second impeachment trial over his role in inciting the January 6, 2021, attack on our Capitol. The Senate GOP leader did, however, deliver a fiery speech on the chamber floor after the impeachment vote in which he declared, “Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty.” McConnell added, “There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day.”
Trump returned the love shortly afterward when he openly urged Senate Republicans last year to depose McConnell as GOP leader. Trump even went as far as trying to recruit Senate candidates who would back him in that effort.
For his part, it’s unlikely that McConnell is hoping that all the Trump-backed Senate candidates lose. The senator from Kentucky is a living, breathing political machine who understands that only if his party controls the Senate can he set the agenda in that chamber – from its legislative goals to confirmations of federal judges and Supreme Court justices.
Still, there’s no disputing that some of Trump’s hand-picked candidates for Senate are flailing, and McConnell apparently wants Republican voters to know who to blame if the GOP doesn’t win the Senate: Donald J. Trump.
For starters, there’s the Trump-championed television personality, Dr. Mehmet Oz, the GOP Senate nominee in Pennsylvania. It was no secret Oz had lived primarily in New Jersey for three decades before moving to Pennsylvania in late 2020.
And as expected, Oz’s Democratic opponent, John Fetterman, has made that a central issue, even releasing comedic videos by famed Jerseyites such as Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi from MTV’s “Jersey Shore” and Steven Van Zandt – one of the stars of “The Sopranos” and a part of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band – furthering the message that Oz is a Jersey guy, not a true Pennsylvanian. This helps explain why Oz was trailing Fetterman by a whopping 11 points in a July Fox News poll.
Another celebrity GOP Senate candidate Trump championed, Herschel Walker, is facing difficulties in Georgia. The football great has been besieged by a series of scandals, among them: falsely claiming he had worked in law enforcement, exaggerating his business and academic records, and failing to tell even his top aides about children he had fathered outside his marriage. A recent Fox News poll has Walker trailing Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock by 4 points in a state that President Joe Biden won in 2020 by 0.3%.
We see a similar story with other Trump-backed Senate candidates in key battleground states such as Arizona, where Blake Masters trailed his Democratic opponent incumbent, Sen. Mark Kelly, by 8 points in a recent poll. Biden won the state by less than 1 percentage point in 2020.
While some die-hard Trump supporters are unlikely to care how Trump’s Senate candidates perform, a July New York Times poll found only 49% of Republicans want Trump to be the party’s 2024 presidential standard-bearer.
Given many Republicans are like McConnell in that their top priority is nominating a contender who is “electable,” the defeat of Trump-backed candidates in battleground states may well diminish Trump’s prospects to be the GOP’s 2024 presidential nominee.
Few things would likely make McConnell happier.