Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) easily defeated his primary challenger, businessman Matt Bevin, in a sour loss for the Tea Party on Tuesday night.
The Associated Press called the race for McConnell right as polls closed at 7 p.m. in the Bluegrass State, where the Senate minority leader had a two-to-one lead over Bevin.
McConnell’s victory sets up a closely-watched and expensive contest against Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, one of Democrats’ best hopes at a GOP pickup this cycle. Grimes also easily won her nominal primary on Tuesday.
Tea Party groups, long frustrated with McConnell’s leadership, initially had high hopes for Bevin. He drew the backing of the Senate Conservatives Fund and Madison Project, among others, and SCF invested nearly a million dollars on his bid.
Bevin was initially seen as a potentially formidable foe for McConnell, who is broadly disliked by Kentuckians of both parties. He invested much of his own money in the race, and his large and diverse family, conservatives believed, offered a strong contrast to the stern and staid McConnell.
But Bevin fell short, crippled by repeated missteps and contradictions in his past that fueled a narrative of the candidate as “deceptive” pushed by McConnell and his allies.
They pointed to an exaggeration of his educational credentials on his LinkedIn page and apparent previous support for the financial bailout as evidence.
And Bevin wasn’t helped by a series of high-profile unforced errors, at one point suggesting that legalizing gay marriage could lead to parents being able to marry their children and speaking at a pro-cockfighting rally that he said he was unaware was related to cockfighting, and then later backtracked on that statement.
This is the part where I ask what the point was of challenging McConnell in the first place. Did it really take all that much hindsight to see that he was much better equipped to win the Republican primary than was Bevin? Was McConnell really such an unbelievably terrible Republican that he merited a challenge in the first place? As I see things, the Tea Party was certainly not helped by this disaster of an insurrection; its gift for picking losers and backing them to the hilt appears to be as intact as it ever was, and its crushing defeat in Kentucky does nothing to make the Tea Party look like a political force with which others must reckon (if anything, it makes the Tea Party look like a spent force). On the other hand, it is entirely possible that Democrats were helped by the challenge to McConnell; the senator has had to spend valuable amounts of time and valuable resources fighting off a primary challenge that turned into a joke, instead of using that time and those resources in order to make his case against Alison Grimes.
We’ll see whether the Tea Party helped Democrats enough to win them the Senate seat in Kentucky, but however marginal the help turns out to be, let there be no doubt about the fact that the challenge to Mitch McConnell only served to further Alison Grimes’s cause. I know the Tea Party doesn’t care about these things; it believes that it is better to lose the Senate altogether than have any Republican senators who are less than one million six percent ideologically pure. But the rest of the Republican party ought to be worried about the fact that one faction on the right is willing and eager to shoot the GOP in both feet–even when doing so only serves to further the electoral ambitions of Democrats.