The State of the Republican Party

I recognize that liking Mitch McConnell is not fashionable these days among Republicans, but I have a hard time taking issue with his analysis of the GOP:

“The most important election yesterday wasn’t the governor of New Jersey and it wasn’t the governor of Virginia, it was the special election for Congress in South Alabama, where a candidate who said the shutdown was a great idea, the president was born in Kenya, and that he opposed Speaker Boehner came in second.” The victory of a more electable Republican, is significant, Mr. McConnell says. To govern, parties must win. To win, parties must “run candidates that don’t scare the general public, [and] convey the impression that we could actually be responsible for governing, you can trust us—we’re adults here, we’re grown-ups.”

Republicans must enter the 2014 election cycle remembering the advice of William F. Buckley : “He always said he was for the most conservative candidate who could win.”

Is the GOP in civil war? “No, I don’t think so.” Everyone agrees on the central issue: “We would all love to get rid of ObamaCare. If we had the votes to do it we’d do it in a heartbeat. It’s the single worst piece of legislation that’s been passed in modern times.”

But “we have a disability right now—it’s called in the Senate ’55 of them and 45 of us.’ I’m not great at math, but 55 is more than 45. . . . I think it’s irresponsible for some people to characterize themselves as sort of true conservatives, to mislead their followers into believing you can get an outcome that you can’t possibly get.”

The tea party, he says, consists of “people who are angry and upset at government—and I agree with them.” But “I think, honestly, many of them have been misled. . . . They’ve been told the reason we can’t get to better outcomes than we’ve gotten is not because the Democrats control the Senate and the White House but because Republicans have been insufficiently feisty. Well, that’s just not true, and I think that the folks that I have difficulty with are the leaders of some of these groups who basically mislead them for profit. . . . They raise money . . . take their cut and spend it” on political action that hurts Republicans.

He refers to the Senate Conservatives Fund. “That’s the one I’m prepared to be specific about.” The fund “has elected more Democrats than the Democratic Senatorial Committee over the last three cycles.” The group is targeting Mr. McConnell with ads slamming his leadership during the shutdown. “Right now they’re on the air in obvious coordination withHarry Reid‘s super PAC—Harry Reid’s!—in the same markets, at roughly the same amount, at the same time.”

[. . .]

Are members of the tea party on the ground being fooled by operators, profit makers and cynics? “Yes,” he said, followed by a brief silence. He declined to say more, but emphasized again that “I make a distinction between the leaders and the followers. I mean, I think a lot of well-meaning people are sending money to organizations having no idea they’re gonna spend all that money against Republicans. Because they’re being misled.”

During the government shutdown there was significant tension and discord among various Republicans on the Hill. Where does that fit in this story?

“It was a strategy that I said both publicly and privately could not work, and did not work.” The idea that a Democratic president and Senate might abandon their signature legislation was “a fantasy—in other words, it was not the truth.”

“All it succeeded in doing was taking attention off of ObamaCare for 16 days. And scaring the public and tanking our brand—our party brand. One of my favorite old Kentucky sayings is that there’s no education in the second kick of a mule. It ain’t gonna happen again.”

Yes, much of this analysis is self-serving; McConnell has been targeted by tea party types for defeat next year, and he is clearly fighting back against them with his comments. But that doesn’t make his words any less true. Advocates of a government shutdown only served to hurt the Republican brand name and only served to take the focus off of the calamitous rollout of Obamacare for close to a month. How that helps Republicans is beyond me.

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