Key GOP senator: Republicans 'need to learn' from Alabama Senate race
© Greg Nash

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynDems confront Kelly after he calls some immigrants 'lazy' McConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration GOP senators turning Trump immigration framework into legislation MORE (R-Texas) said on Wednesday that Republicans need to learn from the GOP primary runoff in Alabama, where Sen. Luther StrangeLuther Johnson StrangeThe Trump Presidency: Year One Dems search for winning playbook Stephen Bannon steps down from Breitbart MORE (R) lost to a conservative challenger.

"We've had what I would say [are] similar but not the same challenges before, for example with the advent of the Tea Party following 2010 and primaries. And I just think we need to learn from this experience and be prepared," said Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, when asked about his takeaway from Tuesday's election.

Strange, who was appointed in February to fill the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDems pick up deep-red legislative seat in Missouri Grassley to Sessions: Policy for employees does not comply with the law New immigration policy leaves asylum seekers in the lurch MORE, lost to Roy Moore, a former state Supreme Court chief justice supported by former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon, by more than 9 percentage points.

His defeat marked a setback for the GOP establishment, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems confront Kelly after he calls some immigrants 'lazy' McConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Overnight Defense: Latest on spending fight - House passes stopgap with defense money while Senate nears two-year budget deal | Pentagon planning military parade for Trump | Afghan war will cost B in 2018 MORE (R-Ky.) and his allies, who invested time and millions of dollars to try to help Strange win.

Cornyn added that Republicans are "listening and watching very closely" to understand the race's "message."

"It's not news that we have sort of an outsider vs. insider challenge. ... But I think other senators will be prepared ... from having served on a longer period of time and be better known to their voters," he said.

Though Senate Republicans have a favorable election map — defending eight seats to the Democrats' 25 — they are facing a slate of heated primary fights that could pit conservative challengers against incumbents.

Kelli Ward, who is challenging Sen. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeMcConnell: 'Whoever gets to 60 wins' on immigration Huckabee Sanders: Dems need to decide if they 'hate' Trump 'more than they love this country' Trump spokeswoman fires back at Flake: 'His numbers are in the tank' MORE (R-Ariz.) for the GOP nomination, immediately seized on Moore's primary victory, saying "Senate leadership should take note of what has transpired in Alabama and end their dishonest attacks against me."

McConnell has pledged that he and his allies will work to influence GOP primaries in an effort to stop a repeat of 2010 and 2012, when some hard-line conservative candidates defeated incumbents from the GOP establishment in party primaries only to lose general elections.

But conservatives and outside groups, which were already dissatisfied with McConnell, are redoubling their efforts to try to challenge the Kentucky Republican's power over the Senate races and within the conference.

McConnell's allies have downplayed the notion that the Alabama race, or a failed attempt to repeal ObamaCare, have had an impact on his standing in the caucus. McConnell was reelected to the top spot unanimously last year during a closed-door meeting.

Cornyn, asked if McConnell was becoming "harmful" for Republicans, added, "No; I'd hate to think about where we would be without Senator McConnell's efforts."