Old candidates: Mitch McConnell and Joe Biden

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is 81; President Joe Biden will be the same age on Nov. 20. (Photo/Patrick Semansky, The Associated Press)

Source Alert

Mitch McConnell is stepping down. USC experts weigh in

March 04, 2024

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will step down as GOP leader in November. McConnell, the longest-serving Senate leader in U.S. history, is set to depart amidst mounting speculation over his health and ongoing conflict within the party.

Experts suggest that his impending departure has sparked a power struggle to reshape the dynamics of the chamber in a highly consequential election year. USC experts on politics and aging are available to discuss.

Contact: Nina Raffio, raffio@usc.edu or (213) 442-8464; USC Media Relations at uscnews@usc.edu or (213) 740-2215

Experts predict more chaos in Congress

“Even as the Republicans struggle to govern in the House, McConnell has faced criticism from senators in his own party. This means another leadership crisis for the Republicans in Congress at a time when they vitally need some stability,” said Jeffrey Jenkins, provost professor of public policy, political science and law at the USC Price School of Public Policy.

“This means another leadership crisis for the Republican in Congress at a time when they vitally need some stability. McConnell’s departure will certainly make governing (legislating) for the Republicans harder beyond November.”

Contact: jenkinja@usc.edu

As the Senate braces for an epic power struggle, threats to democracy loom large

“Leaving the Senate in November, likely due to his health, will further destabilize Congress’ ability to get things done for the American people and stymie further action to protect democracy around the world,” said Dora Kingsley Vertenten, an expert in participatory democracy and a teaching professor at the USC Price School of Public Policy.

“We should expect a good fist fight to replace McConnell as the GOP leader, especially if Trump looks like he and the MAGA activists look like they could pull out a win for the Presidential election. Both the fate of the Senate and the House will be determined by a very contentious election cycle. McConnell stepping down is a precursor to a Democrat continuing to lead the Senate chamber.”

Contact: kingsley@usc.edu

How the GOP shifted further to the right under McConnell

“When he was initially elected, McConnell was perceived as to the right of the Republican party or right in step with most of his members,” said Christian Grose, professor of political science and public policy at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and academic director of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy at USC Price.

“McConnell was at his heart a legislative tactician who sought to move the country to the right on issues like abortion. He succeeded, especially in helping Republican presidents reshape the courts. At the end of his career, the Republican party with Trump as leader has moved even more to the right and away from where McConnell was located.”

Contact: cgrose@dornsife.usc.edu

How old is too old to hold public office?

“As long as someone is up to the task, I don’t see why age should be a limiting factor in an election. What voters should watch out for is the physical and cognitive fitness of a candidate,” said Jennifer Ailshire, a fellow with the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics and an assistant professor with the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.

“In my research, I’ve seen many older individuals start to experience physical declines in their 70s — but there are people who avoid these declines. A momentary lapse in memory or focus does not necessarily mean someone is experiencing significant cognitive decline.”

Contact: ailshire@usc.edu

Additional Experts

Kamy Akhavan is an expert in political polarization and nonpartisan research on controversial issues. Akhavan is executive director of the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future.

Contact: kakhavan@usc.edu


Mara Mather is an expert in neuroscience and cognition who can discuss the science of aging. Mather is professor of gerontology, psychology and biomedical engineering at USC Leonard Davis.

Contact: mara.mather@usc.edu


Bob Shrum is a renowned political strategic and director of the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future. Shrum is an expert in political campaigns, presidential elections and applied politics.

Contact: uscnews@usc.edu or cpf@usc.edu


(Photo/Patrick Semansky)