Opinion: Columnists

Republicans can win if they learn detente

By |
Opinion,David Freddoso,Columnists,Republican Party,Mitch McConnell,Kentucky,2014 Elections,Magazine

Last night, the Quixotic quest to unseat Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., came to the fruitless conclusion everyone had anticipated months earlier.

This ending may have been a humiliating setback for some Tea Partiers, but in fact there were no real winners in this endeavor, only losers. The only hope for Republicans is that someone learns something from it.

Obviously, the anti-McConnell conservatives who put their credibility and more than $1.5 million on the line attacking McConnell can't be that proud of how they did in Kentucky. Their candidate, Matt Bevin, was crushed, 60 percent to 35 percent, losing in every county but two. And facing an incumbent whose voting record at least is pretty solidly conservative, Bevin failed even to create a true ideological battle. If the late polling is any indication, McConnell probably did better with conservative primary voters than he did with moderates.

But McConnell can't be too happy with this outcome either. He has now been softened up by friendly fire ahead of what looks like a very tough November election. He has also been deprived of resources and time that could have been used to improve his already-soft approval ratings within the Bluegrass State.

There is no harm in intra-party rivalry, nor is there any sacred-cow Republican who deserves to be free of primary challenges. But not all Tea Party challenges are created equal. Some have a clear rationale (i.e., a deeply unsatisfactory incumbent), a strong challenger (preferably an election-tested officeholder) and a reasonable chance of success. In Kentucky, not one of these conditions existed, yet much money was raised from conservatives on the assumption that all three did. That cash was not hoarded or stolen, but it was wasted.

The GOP establishment can ill afford many more such victories. Conservatives can ill afford to squander resources when there are far more profitable and winnable battles for House and Senate seats and governorships that will shape the party in the future.

The Republican status quo as of last fall favored the Right. Conservatives were gradually winning the party in open-seat races wherever possible, and selectively making an example of the worst and weakest GOP incumbents and party-favored nominees. As a result, conservatives enjoy far more influence in the party now than they did 10 years ago.

But patience is hard. Conservatives were bitter over the Bush era, when GOP regulars had the numbers in Congress to advance conservative ideas they had campaigned on, yet showed more interest in keeping power and pleasing and protecting President George W. Bush. Conservative rage reached its peak last fall with the dramatic hijacking of the Senate caucus strategy, which led to a shutdown standoff they had no way of winning.

McConnell would later be accused of attacking the Tea Party, but that isn't accurate. He attacked one group in particular -- the one he just beat this week in Kentucky. He responded to the challenge to his authority as Senate leader with an effort to destroy every candidate associated with the Senate Conservatives Fund, regardless of their virtues. His words were, “I don't think they are going to have a single nominee anywhere in the country.” That's not a threat, it's a promise.

The total-war tactics that followed made it surprising this week to see McConnell's vanquished tormentors endorse him after his victory. A week earlier, the GOP establishment had dutifully lined up behind the SCF-backed Ben Sasse after his decisive win in Nebraska.

So maybe peace is possible. Or maybe not. But Republicans don't need to learn to get along. What they need is to return to the sustainable, rational level of intra-party hostility that existed until recently -- a state that excludes acts of futile rage and pure spite.

DAVID FREDDOSO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is the former Editorial Page Editor for the Examiner and the New York Times-bestselling author of "Spin Masters: How the Media Ignored the Real News and Helped Re-elect Barack Obama." He has also written two other books, "The Case Against Barack Obama" (2008) and "Gangster Government" (2011).

View article comments Leave a comment