Rick Scott faces uncertain future after bruising midterm year
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) is facing questions about his political future after a disappointing midterm election cycle that also saw intraparty tensions spill out into public view.
Scott has found himself at the center of multiple dramas over the past year, ranging from his rollout of a policy agenda that was panned by many in his party to his quarrel with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) over the quality of the GOP’s Senate candidates.
The GOP’s failed effort to recapture control of the Senate has only intensified the criticism of Scott, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), raising questions about his role in the party amid speculation he may still have presidential ambitions.
“He made a lot of mistakes,” one Republican Senate campaign consultant said. “I think putting out his agenda was the wrong thing to do. I think chest thumping about the number of seats we were going to win was the wrong thing to do.”
“I do think some of those things are going to bite him in the butt,” the consultant added.
For Scott’s critics, the list of grievances is long: He took a hands-off approach to GOP primaries, allowing untested candidates to clinch Senate nominations; released a controversial 12-point policy agenda that quickly became the target of Democratic attacks; and confidently predicted that Republicans would win “at least 52” seats in the Senate only to come up two seats short of a majority.
“He’s clearly a guy who wants to move up in the world, but he has been making a lot of mistakes,” said Keith Naughton, a veteran Republican strategist. “Talking about Social Security was a huge rookie mistake. Running for [Senate Republican] leader when you don’t have the votes is another mistake. He’s got to take a hard look at what his plan is going forward.”
Some Republicans floated the notion of a primary challenge to Scott in 2024, when he will seek a second term in the Senate. One GOP operative suggested Rep. Byron Donalds, a first-term congressman from southwest Florida, as a possible rival.
Others said that Scott’s tenure at the NRSC during a cycle that saw Republicans blow a chance at winning back the Senate majority would ultimately have little impact on his reelection.
Scott, a wealthy former health care executive, has a vast personal fortune and remains a known quantity in his home state, having won three consecutive statewide campaigns since 2010. He is also a close ally of former President Trump, who carried Florida in both his 2016 and 2020 presidential bids.
At the same time, Scott’s public feuding with McConnell — and unsuccessful effort to unseat him as Senate Republican leader last month — could be seen as an asset by a conservative base that sees McConnell as an entrenched politician too willing to strike deals with Democrats.
“I think being a stopgap on McConnell is something Florida voters will reward him for,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist and former Florida congressional candidate. “If he is getting flak for running the NRSC, he can always pin it on McConnell.”
One source close to Scott brushed off the threat of a potential Senate primary challenge, warning that any intraparty effort to knock off the Florida senator would be ill-advised.
“Anyone talking about a primary challenge from the right against Sen. Scott because he stood by the candidates selected by Republican primary voters and challenged the least popular Republican in the country among Republican voters for leader is even dumber than they look,” the source said.
Yet there may still be longer-term implications for Scott, who has long been rumored to have political ambitions beyond the Senate.
While he ruled out a presidential campaign last week during an appearance on The Hugh Hewitt Show, some Republicans suspect that Scott may still be searching for a lane in a potential 2024 presidential primary — a contest that already includes Trump and could lure in Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), two other Floridians with bigger national profiles than Scott.
“It would be a lot of Floridians, it’s going to be a crowded field, but it seems like that’s where [Scott’s] head is still at,” one Florida Republican said.
Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor, said that Scott’s political reputation was “bruised” by the GOP’s lackluster midterm performance in the Senate and his subsequent effort to oust McConnell from his leadership role, making it all the more difficult to stake out his national prominence.
“Scott has some rebuilding to do with the party,” Eberhart said. “It’s been one misstep after another. If you’re going to go after the king, you better kill him. Scott didn’t even draw blood. He’s going to be looking over his back every time he walks into a conference meeting now. That’s not a good place to be.”
“Scott is obviously ambitious and looking for a bigger stage,” he added. “But the door is closed, and he hasn’t been able to break it down.”
Of course, Scott isn’t without his defenders, many of whom argue that the Florida senator was a reliable cheerleader for the GOP’s slate of Senate hopefuls who did his best to boost his party’s candidates despite concerns from some Republican leaders.
“No one worked harder than Chairman Scott to win the majority,” said Chris Hartline, a spokesperson for the NRSC. “We didn’t get the result we wanted and if some anonymous DC consultants want to play the blame game instead of figuring out how we move forward, so be it.”
“Sen. Scott is focused on fighting for a positive, conservative vision in Washington and representing the people of Florida,” Hartline added.
And even though he lost his bid to unseat McConnell as Senate Republican leader, his bid for the post marked the first challenge McConnell has faced since first winning the job in 2007. Ultimately, 10 Republican senators voted for Scott over McConnell.
Others said that the GOP’s unsuccessful campaign to recapture control of the Senate doesn’t rest solely on Scott. One Republican strategist said that the midterms were the result of a party-wide failure worthy of a thorough review.
“[Scott] does deserve some of the blame,” the strategist said. “Everybody deserves blame for this. But we’re also about to reelect Ronna McDaniel as [Republican National Committee] chair and she’s overseen three bad cycles now.”
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