The shameless, unprincipled Republican Establishment may have lost by winning in Mississippi

Haley Barbour and Thad Cochran

Conservative Republicans are still smarting from last Tuesday’s defeat in Mississippi. Evidence seems to be mounting that pro-Thad Cochran allies used rather unsavory tactics to draw out traditionally-Democratic voters to swing the election in Cochran’s favor.

But the focus of this post isn’t really those tactics or the legality of non-Republican voters casting ballots in open primaries. Instead, Republicans — both moderate Establishment-types and grassroots conservaitves — should seriously consider the fallout from Cochran’s victory — because of those tactics. They could have broad implications against incumbents, particularly when the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) gets involved in the race.

Writing at The American Spectator, Scott McKay notes:

As such, the staffers say, it wasn’t until Wednesday, when the fallout began to descend, that Cochran’s tactics became an issue. And now, several senators are more than a little uneasy with those tactics, which they feel responsible for since they raised money for Cochran.

There is now special consideration being given to the NRSC’s practice of engaging in incumbent protection and favoritism. Said one staffer:

The Cochran thing is bad enough, but it’s not even the worst example. Look at Ben Sasse in Nebraska. He was one of three candidates who would have been fine in that race, all would win the general election and all would have been better votes than the senator they’d replace. There was no reason to back anybody in the primary there, and the NRSC did. And their guy didn’t even win; Sasse crushed him. Now the NRSC has to mend fences with a Republican nominee, and it’s completely unnecessary.

It’s possible, though there will be a fight about it, that a move will be made to pull the NRSC back from engaging in primaries unless the state party in question makes an endorsement.

But most of all, there is a lot of soul-searching going on—particularly on the part of a number of the Senate’s more outspoken conservatives, who might have gone into Mississippi to help McDaniel but for their having made a pledge not to campaign against incumbents. “That pledge would have to presuppose that Cochran wouldn’t run a Democratic campaign in a Republican primary, right?” said one of the staffers.

McKay hints at the fact that Texas Senator Ted Cruz pledged not to campaign against incumbent Republicans and that Kentucky Senator Rand Paul refused to wade into the Mississippi Senate run-off, despite the fact that his father, former Congressman Ron Paul, endorsed McDaniel.

Arguably, if either Senator had spent a little political capital in the Magnorlia State prior to the initial primary election, McDaniel may have won outright the first time. Unfortunately, McDaniel coming just shy of the 50% needed to stave off the run-off three weeks later gave the Establishment time to mobilize and re-invigorate Cochran’s rather lackluster campaign.

Just a few days after the initial primary, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell hosted a fundraiser for Cochran that raised more than $800,000.

The growing discomfort between Establishment Republicans and grassroots conservatives came to a head in this race, and it may only serve to deepen the divide between them.

The NRSC and other Republican committee organizations serve to protect incumbents, not only from general election challengers, but also from challenges to the right in Republican primaries. As readers may recall, the NRSC supported Charlie Crist over Marco Rubio, Trey Grayson over Rand Paul, and David Dewhurst over Ted Cruz.

What good is it, then, for these Senators to sit out key races like this?

For the Republican Party to continue winning elections, the grassroots and the Establishment must be unified for the general election, but repeated efforts by organizations like the NRSC may keep the grassroots, who provide a substantial amount of the ‘boots-on-the-ground’ legwork of campaigns, at home.

Protecting a septuagenarian incumbent may have been a short-term win for the NRSC and Senate Republican leadership, but efforts like this only give conservatives more reasons to stay home. And that could result in long-term losses for the GOP.


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