Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel won the Republican vote in the Republican runoff election on Tuesday night, but it didn’t matter, because incumbent Senator Thad Cochran was able to persuade a legion of Democrats to support him under the “open” rules of the race, in which any Democrat who didn’t vote in the regular primary was free to cross over and meddle in the GOP runoff. Cochran did this through a combination of race-baiting attacks on McDaniel, and touting his ability to make government larger and bring home more goodies from Washington, whereas McDaniel is one of those kooky extremists who thinks running trillion-dollar deficits every year means we’re running out of money.
The result was an “upset” runoff win for the veteran incumbent, 50.9 to 49.1 percent – a margin of about 6,600 votes. There is little doubt Cochran’s vow to serve the interests of Obama voters made the difference. Fox News notes that a hefty chunk of that 6,600 vote margin came from a single county:
Of particular interest to the McDaniel campaign was the turnout in Hinds County, which Cochran won by nearly 11,000 votes Tuesday. By contrast, Cochran won the county by 5,300 votes on June 3. Just under 25,000 total ballots were cast in Hinds County Tuesday, while 16,640 total ballots were cast on June 3.
The Washington Post crunched some numbers and found that “In nearly every Mississippi county, voter turnout was higher that it was for the inconclusive June 3 primary. But precinct totals show it was substantially greater in heavily African-American areas. In the 24 counties with a majority black population, turnout increased by 39.4 per cent, giving Cochran a big edge.” The Democrats courted by Cochran certain seemed to think their support was going to put him over the top:
NAACP leaders, wary of potential confrontations, sent their own monitors to Mississippi. Wayne McDaniels, president of Jackson branch of the NAACP, said, “If Cochran wins, it’s because of the black vote.” He said black Democrats “weighed the field and concluded that with Cochran, we know what we’ve got, and we like what we’ve got,” McDaniels added.
So McDaniel won the primary by slender margin, lost the runoff by a slightly less slender margin, came so close to knocking off an incumbent who has been rolling barrels of pork home for his supporters since 1972 that reinforcements from the other party had to be called in… and the narrative this morning is that it was “the Tea Party’s Alamo,” to cite the headline at The Hill. Their guy almost beat a big-bucks incumbent who was entrenched more deeply than the French army in World War I, the might of the Republican Establishment, plus the Democrats… and the takeaway is that he got trounced so badly that his supporters might as well throw in the towel and make their peace with death-spiral Big Government?
McDaniel did not actually concede last night, and Matt Boyle at Breitbart News is reporting that he will challenge the results of the election:
“I want to be very, very clear: There is nothing dangerous or extreme about wanting to balance a budget,” McDaniel said in a fiery speech to supporters. There is nothing dangerous or extreme about defending the Constitution or the civil liberties therein. There is nothing strange at all about standing as people of faith for a country that we built, that we believe in. But there is something a bit strange, there is something a bit unusual, about a Republican primary that’s decided by liberal Democrats.”
McDaniel said Cochran’s decision to seek Democrats to vote for him in the Republican primary runoff was un-Republican.
“So much for bold colors,” McDaniel said. “So much for principle. I guess they can take some consolation in the fact that they did something tonight by once again compromising, by once again reaching across the aisle, by once again abandoning the conservative movement. I would like to know which part of that strategy today our Republican friends endorse. I would like to know which part of that strategy today our statewide officials endorse. This is not the party of Reagan, but we’re not done fighting and when we’re done it will be.”
McDaniel said that Cochran’s actions mean the “conservative movement took a backseat to liberal Democrats” in Mississippi on Tuesday, something he argued can’t be allowed to stand as precedent. “In the most conservative state in the republic this happened and if it can happen here, it can happen anywhere—and that’s why we will never stop fighting,” McDaniel said.
He went on to say “there were literally dozens of irregularities reported all across this state” and talk about preserving “the sanctity of the vote,” but then he followed up by telling his supporters “we have to be absolutely certain that the Republican primary was won by Republican voters.” No, sadly, that is not what we need to do, because the rules of the runoff did not specify that only registered Republicans could participate. It’s one thing to talk about genuine legal “irregularities,” but even if you think open primaries are stupid (and I can’t understand why any Republican would want Democrats choosing his party candidate, or vice versa) they’re not illegitimate if the rules permit them.
Hopefully McDaniel and his team were very certain they had something more to complain about than legal crossover voting, because he won’t do himself, his movement, or the Republican Party any favors by picking a pointless fight with election officials. Significantly, the state Democrat chairman, Rickey Cole, thinks McDaniel is right to issue his challenge, because “clearly there is some sloppiness to say the least, and probably some failures to comply with the law.”
The most likely point of contention is that only Democrats who did not vote in their own primary were eligible to vote for Cochran in the runoff. That sounds like a matter that will take some time to verify, given the antiquated conditions our election offices are obliged to operate under. One hopes Cole is not merely advocating a McDaniel challenge to divide Mississippi Republicans even further and create an opportunity for Democrat Travis Childers in the general election. For what it’s worth, Cole’s extensive comments on the nature of possible election irregularities seem knowledgeable and well-considered.
Assuming the results hold up, Erick Erickson at RedState makes a strong point about the “longer term problem for the Republican Party” posed by the strategies that helped Cochran win his runoff:
Its core activists hate its leadership more and more. But its leadership are dependent more and more on large check writers to keep their power. Those large check writers are further and further removed from the interests of both the base of the party and Main Street. So to keep power, the GOP focuses more and more on a smaller and smaller band of puppeteers to keep their marionettes upright. At some point there will be more people with knives out to cut the strings than there will be puppeteers with checkbooks. And at some point those people with knives become more intent on cutting the strings than taking the place of the marionettes.
But before that happens, Republican puppets of the System are using tactics that will get them replaced by Democrat puppets with thicker strings:
Unfortunately for the Republican Party the fight continues. And as grassroots activists feel further and further removed and alienated from the party, it will become harder and harder to win. The slaughter the GOP will inflict on the Democrats in November will be a bandaid of built in momentum. When the GOP inevitably caves on repealing Obamacare, opting instead to reform it in favor of their donors’ interests, we may just see an irreparable split. Then, and even worse, if party leaders and party base voters cannot reconcile themselves to a common candidate in 2016, God help us.
Look at it this way: Cochran will roll into the general election with the usual advantages of long-term incumbency, which are certainly nothing to sneeze at… but his Democrat opponent will take away every single argument he used to win his runoff. There’s no bid Thad Cochran can make to buy Mississippi votes with federal taxpayer money that a Democrat cannot cheerfully beat. At some point in that bidding war, the Republican base starts throwing up its hands in disgust and staying home, assuming Cochran hasn’t already fatally wounded himself in the general election by pushing McDaniel’s very sizable cadre of supporters away, by using tactics that smeared them as much as McDaniel. And even if Cochran wins this time, he’s 76 years old and will retire soon, leaving an open seat that his last-ditch campaign has made more Democrat-friendly. Republicans who run as slightly less spendthrift defenders of the Democrat-dominated spending machine are assisting a seismic shift of American political consciousness that will eventually make it impossible for them to win, or indistinguishable from Democrats when they do.
The rationale of the open primary is that it’s supposed to produce candidates with broader appeal for the general election. That might sound nice on paper, but in practice it’s absurd. The difference between what the base voters of the two parties want is irreconcilable, and the political battlefield is heavily tilted against conservatives and libertarians. Partisan loyalty gives Republican Establishment dreams of chasing Democrat voters a certain Charlie-Brown-and-the-football quality, and you can ask Mitt Romney how much winning the “independent” vote counts for.
The important struggle today isn’t truly partisan. It’s not even entirely about conservatives vs. liberals any more. It’s about the System versus those who want to shut it down before it runs out of taxpayer fuel, chokes on the liberties it devours, and blows apart. Thad Cochran’s quest to hang on to his seat provides a classic example of the System protecting itself, with both Republican and Democrat forces lined up beneath its banner. With a 2 percent victory in hand, the System’s mouthpieces are now busy declaring that everything McDaniel and his supporters believe is “extreme,” “radical,” and toxic for anyone interested in winning an election.
The answer isn’t a third party – Chris McDaniel just gave you a preview of what that would look like, except bipartisan power would be even more strongly aligned against the outsider. Those who saddled up for the Tea Party crusade shouldn’t be surprised by what happened in Mississippi – this should be what they expected to happen. Here’s where The Hill got its “Tea Party Alamo” headline:
Steve LaTourette, a former Ohio Republican congressman who is currently president of Main Street PAC, a group seeking to elect moderate, compromise-minded Republicans, compared the Cochran-McDaniel race to the Battle of the Alamo, a turning point in the Texas Revolution.
“We did consider [the Mississippi Senate race] to be sort of the Alamo, and we knew if we were successful down here that the narrative would be a lot better heading into the fall and 2016,” he said.
“I don’t think [Tea Party candidates] have the ability to sneak up on people anymore.”
Main Street spent $400,000 for Cochran during the primary fight, with $100,000 of that coming as a ground operation investment during the runoff period.
[…] LaTourette admitted that if McDaniel had won, “it would have emboldened [conservatives]…and it also would have sent a message to those who serve to be obstructionists.”
He said it should now be easier to for the GOP to forge a middle path with an eye on 2016, where conservative positions on everything from gay marriage to immigration reform to education funding that play well in GOP primaries tend to hobble Republican nominees in the general.
“You should cooperate, and also govern the country. You don’t have to abandon any conservative principles to do that,” LaTourette said.
With all due respect to Mr. LaTourette, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard since the IRS claimed that everybody’s computers exploded and wiped out their email. You can’t retain any conservative principles if you’re making “compromises” with a dominant left-wing political culture that wants to destroy conservative principles. He’s talking like the past six years didn’t happen, not to mention the previous 60 years. It is absolute folly to pretend that liberty-loving Americans are seated at the bargaining table as equal partners with the all-consuming State and its clients.
Just the compromise with “immigration reform” he mentioned will finish his Party off, decisively and permanently… and it’s a “compromise” only the Ruling Class is interested in making, with the actual American people clamoring for law, order, and security on the border, in a trans-partisan chorus. And I suppose the rest of the diseased socialist engine has to be allowed to march along too, without any “obstructionists” getting in its way, because it’s not just left-wing interest groups getting rich off its rackets.
But before you throw up your hands and walk away from the husk of the Republican Party, remember that you can’t win elections without the kind of “ground operation” that only major-party machinery can provide. You have to move the GOP to the right before you can hope to change America’s course. Despite the results in Mississippi, there is some evidence of that happening – if nothing else, just about every member of the Republican Establishment will tell you he or she is more “conservative” now than ever before, which is why you can relax and knock off all those insurgent challenges to its antediluvian incumbents. (Of course, that’s actually the reason we need more such challenges, because it’s the only reason the moderate compromising non-obstructionists feel any need to pretend they hear what serious conservatives are saying.)
Making the Republican Party more conservative is a very tall order. If anyone was under illusions to the contrary, the Mississippi runoff should help dispel them. Taking the current election season in total, it cannot be said that the project is surging ahead quite as well as its most ardent participants might have hoped. But can it truly be said that the project has failed utterly?
Update: The spin from Cochran’s camp is that his big surge in votes during the runoff came from Republicans who would have given him a victory in the primary, but they stayed home, because they were utterly confident that he would win. That puts us back into exploding-IRS-computer realms of foolishness, but if you take it seriously, it eloquently makes the point that ancient incumbents costing on decades of bringing federal money home to their clients don’t exactly fill the electorate with the kind of energy necessary to make real changes in Washington. Also, it would mean Cochran voters don’t pay much attention to the news, because McDaniel’s narrow win in the primary was not the same kind of election-night bolt from the blue that put Dave Brat over Eric Cantor in Virginia. We’ve been letting oblivious people run the country for a while now, and I can’t say I’m impressed by the results.