There's no question that the Republican professional campaign establishment pulled off a political coup in Mississippi on Tuesday that would make even the most jaded consultant proud. GOP operatives in Jackson and Washington roused themselves three weeks ago, after the aging incumbent, Sen. Thad Cochran, finished second in a three-way primary election just behind grassroots conservative challenger Chris McDaniel. With a barrage of money and shrewd political marketing, the establishment snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the runoff.
It was a defeat for the Tea Party. The movement's candidate should have won and instead exited the race with little dignity and less grace. But should last rites now be performed over the Tea Party movement nationwide? Certainly not. The liberal precincts of the mainstream media gave it up for dead in May, then had to resurrect it after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's shocking defeat. Now in June, the talking heads are just giving themselves whiplash.
|Is the Tea Party dead … again? Not even close.|
Let's put things in perspective, just in case anybody thinks Cochran's victory means entrenched GOP incumbents can rest easy.
First, McDaniel should have won this race outright on June 3 and probably would have but for a few terribly misguided supporters. They sought to disparage Cochran's marital conduct by surreptitiously filming his wife, who suffers from dementia, at her nursing home in Mississippi. In mid-May, the incident became public and quickly backfired. Although McDaniel denied any involvement, the incident killed his campaign’s then-gathering momentum at exactly the wrong time. Days later, he fell a hair short of winning the nomination.
Second, even as they rejoice over their successful rescue mission, the party's establishment pooh-bahs, consultants and donors should remember that their Mississippi gambit, helped along by African-Americans and other Democrats voting for Cochran, is not something they want to do often. The words of British General Henry Clinton after his costly victory at Bunker Hill come to mind: “A few more such victories would have shortly put an end to British dominion in America.”
Despite Cochran's win, races like the one just finished in Mississippi help explain why the ranks of the moderate Republican old guard have thinned in Congress over the years. For the party establishment, collaboration with conservatives has become the path of least resistance.
And the very same night Cochran eked out his victory, such collaboration was in fact deciding other races -- including in Colorado (where Rep. Cory Gardner easily won the GOP Senate nomination) and upstate New York's northern tier (where Elise Stefanik won with both conservative and establishment support).
The media's focus on rancorous Tea Party primaries often overshadows races where a true consensus nominee is identified, as with Senate races in Colorado, Montana, Iowa, and in coming months probably Georgia and Alaska as well. So yes, the national Tea Party groups funding some of these races took a serious loss on their campaign record. And yes, the GOP establishment won an unlikely victory under difficult conditions. But is the Tea Party dead … again? Not even close.