Opinion: Columnists

With focus on winning the Senate, GOP factions opt for coexistence

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Opinion,Hugh Hewitt,Columnists,Republican Party,Tea Party,2014 Elections

Texas Gov. Rick Perry endorsed the re-election of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., on Saturday, giving the Republican leader in the Senate another boost on his way to re-election.

“Leaders like Mitch McConnell who have the courage to stand up for conservative principles, even when it means standing up to the leader of the free world," Perry said in a statement released by McConnell's campaign. (Full disclosure: I have endorsed McConnell as well and will be co-hosting a fundraiser for him this week.)

McConnell is easily brushing aside a challenge from a Tea Party candidate, Matt Bevin, with the latest Kentucky state poll, the Bluegrass Poll of Feb. 7, showing McConnell 26 points ahead of Bevin.

On the same day that Perry endorsed McConnell, another Texas Republican, Sen. Ted Cruz, accepted the Claremont Institute's Statesmanship Award at the California-based think tank's annual Churchill Dinner. The Claremont Institute is perhaps the most influential conservative think tank outside of the Beltway, and past recipients of the award have included President Reagan, Baroness Margaret Thatcher, Rush Limbaugh, Bill Bennett and a legion of other conservative luminaries. In his remarks accepting the award, Cruz spoke of the urgency of the moment, which seems to be the key factor in Republican races across the country.

The GOP seems very intent on nominating its best candidates and turning aside primary challenges, not only in Kentucky but also in Texas, where the GOP's number-two in the Senate, John Cornyn, romped to a 40-point win over Tea Party Rep. Steve Stockman. 2014 is not the year for fooling around, it seems, and Perry made the theme of the year explicit in endorsing McConnell.

“We need to send more conservatives like [McConnell] to Washington," Perry said. “In fact, let's send six more to the Senate, make Mitch the new majority leader and send Harry Reid to the back bench where he belongs.”

The urgent need to gain an effective check on a feckless, disinterested, almost random president has dampened Tea Party insurgency this year. Only six months ago, leading figures within the GOP were throwing hammers at each other. As recently as February, the House caucus was in chaos. Now there is a singular focus on November, a focus sharpened every day by the latest data on the debacle that is Obamacare, the president's lawlessness in changing the disastrous law at his whim, and of course Russian adventurism and Chinese militarism.

Peace hasn't broken out within the Beltway GOP, and defense hawks v. deficit hawks will be a theme of the spring and summer as a woefully inadequate Pentagon budget wends its way through the Congress. (The first hearing on the budget, before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense on Thursday, was a great disappointment to conservatives who had expected a much stronger challenge to the budget proposed by the president given events in Ukraine and the recently announced 12 percent increase in China's defense spending.)

But coexistence is now the rule between center-right and right on the Hill and in the states. Philanthropist and conservative activist Foster Friess urged the Claremont Institute audience to urge their friends in the electoral arena to develop a "stadium speech" of first principles coupled with an effective, winsome delivery, and to focus like a laser on changing the public's opinion of conservatism. Cruz followed Friess with exactly that sort of speech, using the humor he displayed at the Gridiron Dinner a week earlier to scorch the president's record.

With eight months to go to an election crucial to the country's future, the GOP has patched itself up, and seems intent on remembering British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli's great rule of politics: "A majority is better than the best repartee."

Hugh Hewitt is a nationally syndicated talk radio host, law professor at Chapman University's Fowler School of Law, and author, most recently of The Happiest Life. He posts daily at HughHewitt.com and is on Twitter @hughhewitt.
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