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McConnell Fires A Shot Across The Bow Of The Tea Party

Mitch McConnell

With the 2013 elections behind us, attention has already begun to turn to the 2014 midterms, and, before them, to various primary fights against so-called “establishment” candidates being waged by candidates with the backing of Tea Party supporters and Senate Conservatives Fund, the PAC formerly headed by Jim DeMint that was at the center of the ill-fated “Defund Obamacare” campaign this summer that resulted in a sixteen day shutdown of the Federal Government from which the GOP garnered, in the end, absolutely nothing. Perhaps the most prominent of those primary fights is likely to be in Kentucky where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is seeking his sixth term in office, is facing a challenge from Tea Party and SCF backed Matt Bevin. So far, there’s little evidence in the polls that Bevin is posing a serious challenge to McConnell, and McConnell heads into the race with of the biggest campaign war chests of any Senate candidate in the country. Nonetheless, McConnnell isn’t leaving anything to chance. He’s already had ads up against Bevin in Kentucky and gave us a preview of what Bevin and other Tea Party candidates are likely to face next year in an interview with Peggy Noonan that appeared in The Wall Street Journal:

It is a month since the government shutdown and a day after the election. The minority leader of the U.S. Senate,Mitch McConnell, longest-serving senator in Kentucky history (1985 to the present, up for a sixth term in 2014), is seated in his office talking about the stresses, strains and estrangements that mark the relationship between what is called the tea party and what is called the GOP establishment, which at the moment seems to consist of everyone who isn’t in the tea party. Mr. McConnell is soft-spoken, contained, a person of habitual discretion. What seemed to be on his mind was something like “Star Wars: The Establishment Fights Back.” What he expressed was more like “The Establishment Voices Some Aggravation.”

But it’s a start.

“The most important election yesterday wasn’t the governor of New Jersey and it wasn’t the governor of Virginia, it was the special election for Congress in South Alabama, where a candidate who said the shutdown was a great idea, the president was born in Kenya, and that he opposed Speaker Boehner came in second.” The victory of a more electable Republican, is significant, Mr. McConnell says. To govern, parties must win. To win, parties must “run candidates that don’t scare the general public, [and] convey the impression that we could actually be responsible for governing, you can trust us—we’re adults here, we’re grown-ups.”

(…)

The tea party, he says, consists of “people who are angry and upset at government—and I agree with them.” But “I think, honestly, many of them have been misled. . . . They’ve been told the reason we can’t get to better outcomes than we’ve gotten is not because the Democrats control the Senate and the White House but because Republicans have been insufficiently feisty. Well, that’s just not true, and I think that the folks that I have difficulty with are the leaders of some of these groups who basically mislead them for profit. . . . They raise money . . . take their cut and spend it” on political action that hurts Republicans.

Regarding the Senate Conservatives Fund, McConnell had these words:

He refers to the Senate Conservatives Fund. “That’s the one I’m prepared to be specific about.” The fund “has elected more Democrats than the Democratic Senatorial Committee over the last three cycles.” The group is targeting Mr. McConnell with ads slamming his leadership during the shutdown. “Right now they’re on the air in obvious coordination with Harry Reid’s super PAC—Harry Reid’s!—in the same markets, at roughly the same amount, at the same time.”

McDonnell does have a point here. Judging by how they’ve spent their money recently, it seems as though the SCF is more interested in targeting Republicans deemed not to be pure than they are in doing the hard work of taking on incumbent Democrats in states that are potentially winnable like Arkansas, Louisiana, and North Carolina. The best evidence of that can been seen in this analysis of recent SCF spending by Tom Dougherty that shows a clear pattern of targeting Republicans who seem to be drifting from whatever it is they consider to be ideological purity. In fact, their tactics seem to to have gotten to the point where even Tea Party stalwarts like Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Rand Paul have made clear to their fellow Senators that they are not going to allow themselves to be associated with SCF efforts to unseat sitting Republicans next year. Whether that leads to a consequent reduction in the ability of  the SCF to have any significant influence on politics is something that only time will tell, but it seems clear that they overplayed their hand in the past several months, and McConnell is sending them a message.

McConnell goes on to reiterate yet again that he was publicly opposed to the shutdown strategy from the beginning and that he has no doubt that he’s going to be the Republican nominee for Senate from Kentucky. As I noted above, there seems to be little doubt that he’s going to end up being proven correct on that last point in the end. The campaign in is still in its early stages, but Bevin has proven to be something of an inept campaigner and, whatever one might say about Mitch McConnell, he’s definitely an adept politician who knows what it takes to win statewide in Kentucky even under less than hospitable circumstances. So, barring what would be an atypical error on the part of the Senate Minority Leader, I wouldn’t be placing any large monetary bets on the odds of Matt Bevin winning the Kentucky Republican Senate Primary.

The broader point of McConnell’s words, though, strike me as being what they say about what the narrative that seems to be developing inside the GOP in the wake of both the shutdown and the elections in New Jersey, Alabama, and Virginia. Specifically, I’m referring to a clear decision by more mainline conservatives that sitting back and letting the Tea Party take control of the primary process as it did in 2010 and 2012 was not in the interests of the GOP, and that, this time, they were going to play the same just as hard, if not harder.

Jazz Shaw puts it this way:

This is about as close to an open declaration of war that McConnell has come. It would seem that the time for “let’s all go along to get along” is over, and the GOP is ready to air all the dirty laundry in public. But here’s one interesting thing for you to consider this morning. You’ll notice that Mitch

(…)

But is Mitch somehow “giving permission” for everyone else in the country – from Graham to Enzi – to start putting up wanted posters of Tea Party upstarts with targets on their faces? If so, Reagan’s 11th commandment is well and truly out the window for both sides, and the primary is going to be a far more bloody affair than I’d been predicting as recently as this summer.

In the end, I don’t think that Graham, Enzi, or Lamar Alexander, who is also facing the potential of a Tea Party challenge of his own next year, think that they need Mitch McConnell’s permission to unload on their Tea Party challengers. The die has already been cast in that regard, and the fight for the future direction of the Republican Party has begun.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Moosebreath says:

    “McConnell goes on to reiterate yet again that he was publicly opposed to the shutdown strategy from the beginning”

    If only he were in a position to have prevented it. After all, Senators don’t get to vote on legislation or anything, amiright?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 1

  2. grumpy realist says:

    Here’s an interesting analysis of Rand Paul’s political possibilities in the future. IMHO, the writer is assuming more intelligence and analysis from the Republican base than I think we’ve seen demonstrated. They’re not going to care a fig about potential plagiarizing problems from Paul–as long as he throws them the red, red meat they’ll continue loudly clamoring for him.

    (Although it would be amusing to see Paul really go isolationist, poke Israel in the snoot and tell AIPLAC to go eff itself. Heck, he’d get my vote in that case!)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  3. john personna says:

    The tea party, he says, consists of “people who are angry and upset at government—and I agree with them.”

    You have to wonder about a long-time Senator [a man who is deeply part of the system] who is “upset at government.”

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 30 Thumb down 3

  4. michael reynolds says:

    It’s a pretty tough statement from McConnell. He must have been good and scared by this latest Tea Party fiasco.

    I do love the fact that Republicans are now starting to say what Democrats have said all along about the Tea Party, that it is rage-fueled, irrational, incapable of accomplishing anything, uninterested in actual governing, self-destructive and flat-out stupid. Well, he may not have used quite those words, but close enough.

    Dumb has finally turned against Dumber.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 34 Thumb down 2

  5. C. Clavin says:

    Peggy Noonan???
    Didn’t she predict a Romney landslide ???

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 1

  6. PJ says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Peggy Noonan???
    Didn’t she predict a Romney landslide ???

    She wasn’t wearing a hot mic when she said that, which means that she lied.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  7. al-Ameda says:

    McConnell goes on to reiterate yet again that he was publicly opposed to the shutdown strategy from the beginning and that he has no doubt that he’s going to be the Republican nominee for Senate from Kentucky.

    LOL!
    Mitch McConnell and John Boehner certainly showed their power and leadership during that sorry shutdown/possible-default episode, didn’t they?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  8. john personna says:

    @this:

    So down-voters, how does McConnell work to improve the system? By being a squishy half-friend of the Teas during the shutdown?

    Seems to me you have to demand he be fully for or fully against.

    “squishy” didn’t help anybody in the long run.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  9. An Interested Party says:

    Republicans/conservatives have taken a lot of potshots at the president about his line about keeping one’s insurance plan and yet they support career politicians like McConnell (been in the Senate for almost half his life) who routinely lie about how much they despise government when what he and people like him really despise is a government they don’t control…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  10. Argon says:

    Brave Sir Robin the Spineless kept his head down for most of the shutdown fight. Now, sensing the Tea Party is taking some damage, he bravely squeaks up because it pertains to his reelection.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  11. Woody says:

    I wonder what Senator McConnell will say about his state’s successful implementation of the ACA (no prizes for guessing candidate Bevins’ views).

    “Sorry we screwed up, Mitch. Too many of your fellow Kentuckians have health insurance now.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  12. jukeboxgrad says:

    Michael:

    I do love the fact that Republicans are now starting to say what Democrats have said all along about the Tea Party

    I also enjoy the parallel between this statement from McConnell:

    the folks that I have difficulty with are the leaders of some of these groups who basically mislead them for profit

    And this statement from David Frum, exactly a year earlier (link):

    Republicans have been fleeced and exploited and lied to by a conservative entertainment complex

    Also related (link):

    “We’re not going to do business … with people who profit off of attacking Republicans. Purity for profit is a disease that threatens the Republican Party.” This vivid turn of phrase — “purity for profit” — captures the main reason Republican leaders are edging away from a strategy of accommodation. The Obama era has unleashed a great deal of genuine populist and libertarian energy. But a good portion of it is being channeled into business and fundraising models that depend on stoking resentment against the GOP itself

    There is a part of the GOP that cares about winning elections and achieving policy objectives (the ‘Establishment’), and there’s another part of the GOP (the “conservative entertainment complex,” in Frum’s words) that cares about fleecing the rubes, a business that is arguably even more profitable when the GOP loses elections. Woody said it this way in another thread:

    The Republican Party and the rightwing media are not rewarded for the same outcomes. So long as News Corp and the Limbaughs make bank on feeding agitprop to those determined to accept it, there will be more surprises to come.

    People like McConnell and Gerson using words like “profit” and “business” to describe the problem is a sign that they are grasping the message Frum delivered. Although it’s not their style to be as blunt as he was.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  13. Ron Beasley says:

    @jukeboxgrad: You nailed it. Fox News and Limbaugh make their money when the Republicans are out of power. Don’t forget that Limbaugh and Fox News got their start when Clinton was President.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 1

  14. ernieyeball says:

    @Ron Beasley: Limbaugh… got (his) start when Clinton was President.

    Point of information per WikiP:
    In 1984, Limbaugh returned to radio as a talk show host at KFBK in Sacramento, California,…
    On August 1, 1988, after achieving success in Sacramento and drawing the attention of former ABC Radio President Edward F. McLaughlin, Limbaugh moved to New York City and began his national radio show.

    In 1984 Reagan was President. In 1988 Bush the Elder was President. Clinton took office in January of 1993.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  15. C. Clavin says:

    @Woody:
    He’s already attributed it to the takers getting free healthcare.
    Very predictable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  16. stonetools says:

    It is truly amazing as someone as implacably conservative as MConnell , who was the architect of the Republicans’ scorched earth opposition policy to anything Obama, is now considered the voice of sweet reasonableness and moderation. How the Overton window has shifted!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  17. C. Clavin says:

    Interesting recap of the Tea Parties astro-roots…from a book out this week.
    http://www.salon.com/2013/11/10/“we_have_a_radical_philosophy_the_plot_to_stop_the_public_option/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. Latino_in_Boston says:

    If you want to see how destructive to their own policies the tea partiers are, look no further than the attempt to try to unseat Mitch McConnell.

    There’s no one in government right now, not a single person, that has been more effective in stopping the Obama agenda. The idea of duping the media into this obsession with bipartisanship was genius, and his strategy to slow everything down in unprecedented ways is not even remarked upon anymore. Of course, he does all of this quietly, without screaming how amazing he is, and that Obama was born in Kenya, which is naturally why the tea party hates him.

    Just look at all the tea party heroes (Allen West, Louis Gohmert, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Steve King), all legislative weaklings and insane. Cruz is smart enough to know that the louder you scream counts far more than actual legislative accomplishments, because the agenda they’re fighting is entirely fictitious in any case. But McConnell actually cares about governing, that’s his problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  19. jukeboxgrad says:

    Ron:

    Fox News and Limbaugh make their money when the Republicans are out of power.

    This is the heart of the matter.

    This death spiral of the GOP is poetic justice, because the warring wings share a core principle: the worship of money. For the Establishment GOP, this means winning elections so they can implement policies which further enrich the rich.

    But this is so old-fashioned. The Media GOP has discovered a shortcut to riches: lose elections so the rubes are in a constant state of outraged arousal, and they will never stop throwing money at you. These two forces used to worship money jointly, but now their interests are divergent and it’s going to be like Sunni versus Shia.

    Fox News and Limbaugh make their money when the Republicans are out of power.

    Yes, but what’s less obvious is that outfits like Senate Conservatives Fund and Heritage Action are really in the same business as Fox and Rush. And in a way the scam is even more blatant. Fox and Rush do not have links called “Donate” or “Contribute.” For SCF and HA, those are big buttons at the very top of their home page. Outfits like SCF and HA are really part of Media GOP; they pretend to care about winning elections, but this is just a clever disguise to fool the rubes.

    Palin and DeMint are both people who looked at Rush and Sean and Bill and realized that Entertainer is a better career than Politician. Cruz is following them down the same road. Huckabee is another one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  20. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Ron Beasley: I’ve always thought that Grover Norquist’s expressed desire for a government small enough to drown in a bathtub was pure persiflage. A drowned baby in a bathtub won’t scare many folks into providing the financial support that sustains Grover, Rush, Glenn, Sean, et al.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  21. steve s says:

    Palin and DeMint are both people who looked at Rush and Sean and Bill and realized that Entertainer is a better career than Politician. Cruz is following them down the same road. Huckabee is another one.

    Living in Florida, I’ve half a mind to start a Tea Party Fundraising group, network with SCORE and Chamber of Congress all over Jax/Gainesville/Ft Myers etc until I have contact info on thousands of businessmen, and then raise as much money as I can, pay myself a 6-figure salary, and funnel all the money to the most demented Tea Party candidates I can find.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  22. steve s says:

    I’d name it something like Tea Advancing Republican Division.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  23. jukeboxgrad says:

    and funnel all the money to the most demented Tea Party candidates I can find

    I think it’s a great idea. Reminds me of this comment I saw somewhere at the height of the shutdown drama:

    At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ted Cruz pulled off his mask and turned out to actually be Barack Obama.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  24. ernieyeball says:

    @steve s:…and funnel all the money to the most demented Tea Party candidates I can find.

    I have been charged with being as unhinged as anyone by many who know me.
    I will gladly challenge any RINO in the Florida Republican Primaries as a REal Tea Advancing Republican Division candidate. Where do I sign up for your contributions?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  25. Don L says:

    I don’t so much mind these anti-conservative pretend leaders who run the elitist GOP firing shots across the conservative ship’s bows, it’s a far better thing he has done this way than the usual default stab in the back!
    Fire them all and then we can truly work on the other socialists, who at least admit they seek nothing more than enough power to control all of us.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

  26. grumpy realist says:

    @Don L: So you don’t believe in obeying laws, right? Because they “control all of us.” Or regulations?

    Do you stop at stop lights?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  27. al-Ameda says:

    @Don L:

    Fire them all and then we can truly work on the other socialists, who at least admit they seek nothing more than enough power to control all of us.

    Drama Queen Alert

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  28. Whoa, such a helpful online site.

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