Not being a real close observer of the internal politics of Mitch McConnell’s cozy club of Senate Republicans, this lede from Politico‘s Manu Raju caught me by surprise:

John Cornyn’s path to become the Senate GOP’s No. 2 Republican is now clear after a potential challenger decided against challenging the Texas Republican for the plum spot. South Dakota Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) informed his colleagues Thursday he would stay as the Senate Republican Conference chairman, the No. 3 spot, averting a potentially messy leadership election after the GOP lost ground in Senate elections on Tuesday.

Cornyn? Wait, wasn’t he in charge of….

Cornyn oversaw the National Republican Senatorial Committee the past two election cycles, but that does not appear to be a roadblock to his ascension atop the conference even though the NRSC failed to win the majority despite a favorable map. While other challengers may yet emerge, Cornyn has so far avoided any opponents in the race.

Man, that’s some serious social promotion. This cycle Cornyn, with the most favorable landscape (Democrats holding 23 of the 33 seats up) in living memory and with more money behind him than Croesus, managed to lose two net Senate seats. Sure, Romney didn’t help by losing, but by my quick count, Republican Senate candidates ran behind Mitt in 23 states.

Since he’s not exactly known as a legislative dynamo, either, you have to figure Cornyn is either personally popular with his peers, or just reflects their views unusually well. But his upward mobility makes you wonder about the GOP’s supposedly overriding commitment to rewarding success. After all, when you look at the Senate Republican Caucus’ declining numbers, you have to say: “He built that!”

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Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.