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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell departs the Capitol on Dec. 11. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

It took four years and an election defeat. But someone with real power inside the Republican Party is standing up to — and swatting back — President Trump: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Why it matters: This is a preview of the power struggle that will define the Republican Party in 2021.

You saw this with McConnell acknowledging Joe Biden as President-elect.

  • You saw this with McConnell blocking Trump's push to raise stimulus checks to $2,000, which would have split Senate Republicans.
  • And you're seeing it now with his effort to curtail futile resistance by the GOP to congressional certification of Biden's victory.

Yes, but: Until now, McConnell's strategy was buffeted by the chaos Trump created. Now, the Senate leader — whose autobiography is called "The Long Game" — is finally able to set the party's course.

  • "McConnell is trying to reclaim the role he had in 2009 — leader of the opposition to a new Democratic president," said a Republican operative familiar with the leader's thinking.

What he's thinking: Depending on the outcome of Tuesday's Georgia runoffs, McConnell will have to find a way to protect — or regain — a Senate majority, in the face of Trump and his operatives promoting candidates who could win primaries but might well lose.

  • During Trump's presidency, Axios' Margaret Talev points out, McConnell gained from an alliance that yielded 200+ lifetime judgeships — including three Supreme Court justices. As ex-president, Trump carries more liability. 

The bottom line: Beginning 19 days from now, McConnell is the most powerful Republican in the land.

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Go deeper

Ronna McDaniel says RNC would stay "neutral" in primaries if Trump ran in 2024

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told the AP on Wednesday that if former President Trump runs again in 2024, the GOP will remain "neutral" during the primary season.

Why it matters: McDaniel has been staunchly supportive of the former president, who endorsed her to keep running the RNC. She now must focus on regaining majorities in Congress, especially as the Republican party reckons with what the GOP looks like after Trump, even as he remains hugely popular with his base.

Sarah Palin tests positive for COVID, delaying defamation trial

Sarah Palin. Photo: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, delaying the start of her defamation trial against the New York Times.

Why it matters: The trial will be closely watched, as it's a rare instance of a major media company defending its editorial practices before an American jury.

S&P 500 slides into correction territory

Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Stocks suffered their worst drop of the year, pushing the S&P 500 on track to fall into a "correction."

Driving the news: The benchmark S&P 500 dropped for its fifth straight day, with losses nearing 3% in early trading.