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Rick Scott caught in middle of opposing GOP factions

Sen. Rick Scott (Fla.), the head of the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, has found himself squeezed between opposing factions of the GOP. 

As the leader of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), Scott has pledged to protect his party’s incumbents, especially as Republicans aim to recapture the Senate in 2022. But in doing so, he risks upsetting former President TrumpDonald TrumpHarry Reid reacts to Boehner book excerpt: 'We didn't mince words' Man arrested for allegedly threatening to stab undercover Asian officer in NYC Trump says GOP will take White House in 2024 in prepared speech MORE, the de facto leader of the GOP who has vowed political revenge on Republican lawmakers whom he views as insufficiently loyal.

Any missteps could deal damage not only to the GOP’s campaign to win back the Senate majority, but also to Scott’s own political ambitions.

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He is widely seen as a prospective contender for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, and running afoul of Trump could prove fatal in a primary race in which several candidates will be jockeying for the former president’s support. There’s also the possibility that Trump decides to mount another bid for the White House.

“There are battle lines [in the GOP], and I think Scott is doing his best to stand in the middle,” one Florida-based Republican consultant said. “Maybe he can pull it off. I don’t know. I wouldn’t want that job.”

Scott has downplayed the notion of a serious conflict within the GOP after Trump’s presidency, saying repeatedly in recent weeks that the Republican “civil war is canceled.” In a widely distributed NRSC memo last month, Scott urged unity among Republicans, warning that “now is not the time for division.”

Republicans are plotting their return to the Senate majority after narrowly losing it early this year in two runoff elections in Georgia. On paper, winning control of the upper chamber appears easy; the GOP needs to flip only one seat in 2022 to gain a 51-to-49 edge in the Senate.

But the Senate map may prove difficult for Republicans. The party is defending 20 seats to Democrats’ 14, including a handful in competitive states. At the same time, three Republicans in battleground states — Sens. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrNorth Carolina mayor Rett Newton launches Senate bid Democratic hopeful Jeff Jackson raises .3M for North Carolina Senate bid Rick Scott 'very optimistic' Grassley will run for another term MORE (N.C.), Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanTo encourage innovation, Congress should pass two bills protecting important R&D tax provision The Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Biden-GOP infrastructure talks off to rocky start MORE (Ohio) and Pat ToomeyPatrick (Pat) Joseph ToomeySasse rebuked by Nebraska Republican Party over impeachment vote Philly GOP commissioner on censures: 'I would suggest they censure Republican elected officials who are lying' Toomey censured by several Pennsylvania county GOP committees over impeachment vote MORE (Pa.) — have said that they will not seek reelection in 2022, adding an element of uncertainty to those contests.

To be sure, the challenges of leading the NRSC in the post-Trump political landscape aren’t lost on Scott.

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Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Friday, Scott acknowledged at least some tension within the GOP, though he largely brushed it aside, insisting that he would not “mediate” intraparty conflicts and would instead “spend every day talking about how Democrats are an absolute mortal threat” to the country.

“My Republican colleagues in the U.S. Senate — they have to hate me,” Scott said of his elevation to NRSC chair. “You have to raise a gazillion dollars and now you have to navigate all the infighting in the Republican Party. Sounds like a lot of fun, right?”

“Now, many people are saying that my job is to mediate between warring factions on the right and mediate the war of words between party leaders,” he added. “Doesn’t sound like much fun. Well, I’ve got some news for you. I’m not going to mediate anything. Instead, I’m going to fight for our conservative values.”

But Republican strategists and campaign aides say Scott’s insistence that he can ignore the divisions within the party — and Trump’s call to oust incumbents whom he believes have been disloyal to him — may be easier said than done.

One of the GOP incumbents that Scott is charged with protecting next year, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump looms large over GOP donor retreat in Florida Top GOP super PAC endorses Murkowski amid primary threat Biden-GOP infrastructure talks off to rocky start MORE (Alaska), was among seven Republican senators who voted last month to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial. That vote makes her a prime target for the former president and his band of loyalists.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican nominee for vice president and an early endorser of Trump’s 2016 White House bid, raised the prospect of primarying Murkowski even before last month’s impeachment vote in the Senate. And while she has remained silent on Murkowski’s vote, her potential entrance into the race would give Trump a high-profile ally to get behind.

But Trump has also fired warning shots at those who voted to acquit him in his impeachment trial. In December, he threw his support behind a primary challenge to Senate Minority Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSunday shows preview: Democrats eye two-part infrastructure push; Michigan coronavirus cases surge Schumer kicks into reelection mode The Hill's Morning Report - Biden shifts on filibuster MORE (S.D.) after the No. 2 Senate Republican criticized efforts by some GOP lawmakers to reject President BidenJoe BidenBiden eyes bigger US role in global vaccination efforts Trump says GOP will take White House in 2024 in prepared speech Kemp: Pulling All-Star game out of Atlanta will hurt business owners of color MORE’s Electoral College victory.

“You can’t paper over the fact that, at some point, it’s going to be Rick Scott, the NRSC chair, vs. Donald Trump,” one GOP operative who has worked on Senate races said. “There’s a whole bunch of activists out there now who cut their teeth under Trump and are loyal to him. And I think they’re eager to run, especially against some of these Republicans who have been around for a while.”

With some Republicans seeking to distance themselves from Trump, more GOP incumbents could become primary targets for the former president, the operative said.

Scott will also have to navigate the frayed relationship between Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHarry Reid reacts to Boehner book excerpt: 'We didn't mince words' Democrats see opportunity in GOP feud with business Biden resists calls to give hard-hit states more vaccines than others MORE (R-Ky.), who wields outsize influence over the NRSC and has sharply criticized Trump in the nearly two months since the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

People familiar with the relationship between Scott and McConnell said that the two men are on good terms, and Scott has reiterated his support for the Senate Republican leader.

He also still speaks with Trump. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal late last month, Scott said that he had recently told the former president that Republicans would need his help to ensure the GOP wins back its Senate majority next year. But he didn’t ask Trump to refrain from backing primary challengers to GOP incumbents, according to Scott.

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The Florida senator has vowed multiple times to uphold the NRSC’s policy of reelecting incumbents, including those facing primary fights, a pledge he reiterated in an interview on Fox News on Sunday.

“I am supporting every Republican incumbent in all the Senate races,” Scott said. “So I believe all of our incumbents are going to win. We have some open Republican seats, open Democrat seats. I trust in voters. I think we’re going to get great candidates come out.”

But hours later, as he took the stage at CPAC, Trump took aim at Republicans who have broken with him, urging his supporters to “get rid of them all.”

Further complicating matters for Scott is the question of his own political future. The senator has long been floated as a potential presidential candidate, though Scott has denied he’s planning to run in 2024. Angering Trump, or being seen as opposed to the former president’s agenda in any way, could be detrimental to a Republican with ambitions for higher office. And Scott must also contend with the rise of Ron DeSantisRon DeSantisFlorida newspaper blasts DeSantis's ban on COVID-19 passports: 'Makes no sense' Buttigieg hopes cruises will return by mid-summer The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - World mourns the death of Prince Philip MORE, the Republican governor of Florida, who has emerged as a favorite of the pro-Trump wing of the party.

Scott’s position is unique compared to his counterpart in the House, Rep. Tom EmmerThomas (Tom) Earl EmmerGOP campaign chief confident his party will win back House Letlow wins Louisiana special House election to replace late husband Fundraising spat points to Trump-GOP fissures MORE (R-Ohio), who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). Unlike the NRSC, the NRCC does not get involved in primary races, even when House GOP incumbents’ political survival is at stake.

Even so, Emmer acknowledged on Wednesday that having Trump support primary challengers to House Republicans is “not going to be helpful.”

“He can do whatever he wants. Any citizen can do whatever he wants,” Emmer said at an event hosted by Politico. “But I’d tell him it’s better for us that we keep these people and have a majority that can be sustained going forward.”