WASHINGTON -- Republican lawmakers and campaign committees have jittered with excitement over the prospect of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an avowed "democratic socialist," winning the Democratic presidential nomination and dragging down-ballot Democrats to their doom, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stayed true to form, prevaricating and lowering expectations.
"I think Republicans speculating about which Democratic candidate for president being easiest to beat may be a bit foolish," the Kentucky Republican told reporters Tuesday.
"I'm reminded of when the Democrats back in 1980 were all pulling for Ronald Reagan to be the nominee because they thought he'd be the easiest to beat," he said. "I think it's going to be a tough general election with a lot of energy on both sides. ... For myself, I'll leave it up to the Democrats to pick who they'd like to be their candidate."
McConnell has kept a measured tone about Republicans' prospects for keeping both the White House and a Senate majority, even in the aftermath of some significant political victories.
Though he took a victory lap after defeating impeachment in the Senate earlier this month and was quick to point out President Donald Trump was enjoying his highest approval ratings in some polls since he took office, McConnell acknowledged that "many things will occur between now and the fall."
"I don't think there's any resting on laurels," he said less than a week after Trump's acquittal in the Senate. "This is going to be a very competitive race this fall, not only for the presidency but for the Senate as well."
Other Republicans aren't being so cautious.
McConnell's top deputy, Senate Majority Whip John Thune, speculated this week on Sanders' potential effect in crucial parts of the country for Democrats.
"I would think that in a lot of those swing states it's a very complicated factor to have him at the top of the ticket if you're a down-ballot Democrat running for House or Senate. I would be really concerned," the South Dakota Republican told The Hill.
Some incumbent Senate Republicans are already tying their potential Democratic opponents to Sanders. Arizona Republican Sen. Martha McSally launched a television ad last week titled "Bernie Bro," linking her likely general election opponent, Mark Kelly, to the Vermont senator.