The Republican Party continues to enjoy a vibrant battle between its establishment stronghold and small-government insurgents sometimes described as the Tea Party.
Republican establishment political strategist Karl Rove responded to older-than-Methuselah, longtime-incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran’s runoff victory in Mississippi this week with a Wall Street Journal column about how Tea Party groups had “taken a beating” this primary season.
The column explained that entrenched incumbents with huge war chests and the backing of the party establishment have won more often than challengers, which is undoubtedly true. It is worth noting that Rove did not mention the tremendous victory local and national Tea Party groups had in Nebraska over Sen. Mitch McConnell and his establishment friends. But let’s move on from that and consider whether these establishment victories — and Thad Cochran’s in particular — aren’t somewhat Pyrrhic.
Now don’t get me wrong — Republican consultant Stuart Stevens did a fantastic job of winning a race for his client. The Cochran campaign has been criticized for winning by getting Democratic voters to cross-over and vote for the perpetual GOP incumbent. But it was an open primary and, assuming the laws were followed, that strategy is fair.
But what about the general behavior of the Republican establishment in this race?
In theory, the Tea Party vs. Establishment battle is about control of the Republican Party. Here, the “establishment” gained party control by attracting Democrats in what everyone reasonably assumes is a one-off situation. If not for these borrowed voters, Cochran would have easily lost. This is supposed to prove that the Tea Party is feckless and isn’t able to mount serious challenges.
But if the battle for the party is related to members of the party, it’s worth noting that the majority of Republicans who voted in Mississippi voted for the guy who lost the primary.
Chris McDaniel, who lost to Cochran, was not an ideal candidate, to put it mildly. He’s said some tough-to-defend things, done some tough-to-defend things, and had fans engaged in ridiculous campaign shenanigans, such as taking unwelcome photos of Cochran’s ill wife, who lives in a nursing home.
But if McDaniel is too crazy, supposedly, to be a U.S. Senator, what about Cochran, who might literally be senile? If the GOP cared about stewardship of the party, and didn’t want radicals to take over, leaving some senile fool in that position as long as they have was asking for trouble. The GOP should have managed this properly, landed Cochran a lobbying gig. We all know he was well connected with lobbyists. Here’s what one of them said when Cochran failed to win the June 3 primary:
I guess Mississippi doesn’t want Federal money anymore. I betcha there are 49 states that will gladly take it.
— John Feehery (@JohnFeehery) June 4, 2014
Any nominally business-friendly conservative guy would have shut down McDaniel a lot earlier. The only way McDaniel had a chance was because Cochran was so senile and was such a foe of small-government conservatism.
So who cares?
As Robert Tracinski points out in “Here’s The Worst Part Of Thad Cochran’s Victory,” the victor won by playing up his support of the welfare state to black Democratic voters:
Is this what racial politics all boils down to—that it’s not about who is racist or who isn’t, but merely about who can deliver the federal dollars? This is more evidence, in case it was needed, that racial politics in America is no longer actually about race or racism. It has been co-opted as a bludgeon for supporters of the welfare state.
That worked for Mississippi voters, but that’s not the end of the story.
Because the tactics of the campaign were trumpeted nationally, all Tea Party voters now know what the establishment is willing to do to keep decrepit, long-time senators in office and keep small-government types out.
And it turns out they’re not so pleased.
Check out what this Republican Party member has to say about the tactics:
When it comes to whatever tenuous faith in and respect for the Republican Party I have held in the past, the Cochran victory in the Mississippi primary, and the GOP’s well-funded aggressive solicitation of Democrats to join in the vote against Cochran’s primary challenger is the last straw. I have none left. Zero. I have long struggled to see any real philosophical difference between the politicians of the Republican and Democrat parties. Now I am convinced that there is also no moral difference between them. They are perfectly morally equivalent.
He goes on to explain that he doesn’t even identify as Tea Party but that “what the GOP’s strategy in this primary demonstrates to me is that the disdain, if not hatred, by the owners and operators of the Republican Party for the ordinary voter (me) is equal to or only marginally less than that of the owners and operators of the Democrat party.” He says he’s leaving the party rolls.
Openly encouraging Democrats to vote for Thad Cochran is like giving away tickets to fill seats that the public apparently doesn’t think are worth paying for. Any businessman would see this as the beginning of downward spiral that will result in bankruptcy for the circus.
So while the establishment pats itself on the back for this win against Tea Party forces, it’s worth noting that it was only through their party mismanagement that the victory almost eluded them and that the victory may prove to be Pyrrhic in any case.