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Murmurs on the Johns

Mitch McConnell John Barrasso John Thune John Cornyn
The next Republican leader will probably be an establishment figure, but they’ll likely have to manage upheavals more severe than any McConnell faced. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Abby Livingston
February 28, 2024

For just about anyone with a glancing or even tangential interest in Washington, the recent announcement of Mitch McConnell’s retirement as the top Republican in the Senate at the end of this year, announced earlier today, was hardly a surprise. But the announcement itself, much like the departure of a royal or head of state, immediately unleashed a reservoir of simmering competition, ego, ambition, anxiety, chaos, and the reality that nobody seems to know where the Senate G.O.P. Conference is headed. 

In any case, the leadership race is now officially on, and we’ll likely be without a clear successor until November, according to a round of calls to Senate circles. Every Republican I spoke with anticipated a protracted leadership race between the top three contenders, a.k.a. the Johns: John Barrasso, John Cornyn, and John Thune. “It’s way too early to say we’re anywhere close to an heir apparent,” a plugged-in former senior Senate staffer told me, previewing considerable John-on-John violence.