A nearly two-decade era will end in November when Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky steps down as the Senate Republican leader

Now the speculation shifts to who might replace McConnell, and all eyes are on the "three Johns" — three members of the Senate GOP leadership who all share the same first name.

What You Need To Know

  • A nearly two-decade era will end in November when Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky steps down as the Senate Republican leader

  • Now the speculation shifts to who might replace McConnell

  • Sens. John Thune of South Dakota, John Cornyn of Texas and John Barrasso of Wyoming are best positioned to succeed him

  • If former President Donald Trump returns to the White House, his opinion could weigh heavily

McConnell took over as Senate minority leader in January 2007, ascended to majority leader in 2015 — which he served as for six years — before returning to minority leader in 2021.

McConnell announced his plan Wednesday to resign from his post, although he said he will serve the rest of his term, which ends in January 2027, in the Senate.

Here’s a look at the three candidates best positioned to replace the Republican titan, all of whom coincidentally are named John.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. (AP Photo, File)
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. (AP Photo, File)

John Thune of South Dakota

Thune, 63, has held the No. 2 role among Senate Republicans since 2019 — either majority or minority whip, depending on the chamber’s makeup. 

A former House member, Thune was first elected to the Senate when he defeated Democratic incumbent Tom Daschle, then the Senate minority leader, in 2004.

If he runs for Senate leader, Thune could face resistance from former President Donald Trump should he return to the White House next year. 

Thune, who reportedly considered retiring from the Senate before winning reelection in 2022, voted to acquit Trump at his 2021 impeachment trial but criticized the former president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election as “inexcusable.” 

Trump called Thune a “RINO” — Republican in name only — and encouraged South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem to challenge him two years ago. 

Despite their differences, Thune endorsed Trump this week after initially backing Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., for president.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas (AP Photo, File)
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas (AP Photo, File)

John Cornyn of Texas

Cornyn occupied Thune’s role as McConnell’s top deputy from 2013-2019, when term limits forced him out as majority whip. 

Cornyn has long eyed replacing McConnell.

“Should he decide to step down and no longer serve as a leader, I’ve made it no secret that I would like to succeed him,” Cornyn told The Texas Tribune in 2021, adding that McConnell has been “extraordinarily effective.”

Cornyn, 72, has, too, run afoul of Trump. Last year, Cornyn said, "I think President Trump’s time has passed him by” and that Republicans needed "a candidate who can actually win” the 2024 presidential election, adding that Trump has struggled to broaden his appeal beyond his base.

And Cornyn was publicly skeptical of Trump’s claims of a stolen election in 2020. 

Trump also has accused Cornyn of being a “RINO” for negotiating a bipartisan gun safety bill in 2022 following the Uvalde, Texas, elementary school massacre and called him “weak,” “ineffective” and a “Stiff.”

But Cornyn, too, has endorsed Trump, announcing he was backing him last month.

Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. (AP Photo, File)
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. (AP Photo, File)

John Barrasso of Wyoming

As chair of the Senate Republican Conference since 2019, Barrasso is the No. 3-ranking member of the GOP in the chamber. He is also the top Republican on the Senate Energy Committee.

Unlike Thune and Cornyn, Barrasso, 71, has largely avoided criticizing Trump, even declining in a 2021 TV interview to condemn Trump’s defense of Jan. 6 rioters who chanted “hang Mike Pence.”

Trump last year called Barrasso a “flunky for Mitch McConnell,” a sign that the former president may view him as being too closely aligned with the minority leader, with whom Trump has often butted heads. But Trump praised Barrasso last month after the Wyoming senator endorsed him. 

“To know John is to both like and respect him, a truly extraordinary man,” Trump wrote on Truth Social.

Barrasso is up for reelection himself this November.


It’s possible other candidates to succeed McConnell will emerge between now and December. Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Shelley Moore Capitol of West Virginia also hold leadership roles in the Senate. In 2022, Sen. Rick Scott of Florida challenged McConnell for minority leader but lost in a 37-10 vote.

Asked Wednesday if he had any interest in the job, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, a staunch Trump ally who had called for a change in Senate GOP leadership, told Spectrum News, “Absolutely not.”


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