My move to new digs last week prevented me from providing commentary on last week’s Republican primaries. After the ouster of Eric Cantor, I imagine that many Tea Party types were confident that they would rack up more victories against Republicans they perceived as unfaithful to The Cause.
The Tea Party’s biggest loss came in Mississippi, where candidate Chris McDaniel failed to beat out incumbent Thad Cochran in the Republican senatorial primary. McDaniel has not only refused to concede to Cochran, he’s also decided to mount the most desperate of challenges to Cochran’s victory:
Following his defeat in Mississippi’s Republican Senate runoff on Tuesday, state Sen. Chris McDaniel vowed that he would challenge the results. “Before this race ends,” he said, citing “dozens of irregularities,” “we have to be certain that the Republican primary was won by Republican voters.”
The McDaniel campaign has not responded to a request for comment about what means of recourse the candidate plans to seek but the avenues to challenge the vote seem decidedly limited. Mississippi is one of two states — the other one is Hawaii — which do not have a recount procedure spelled out in the state law books. Candidates in Mississippi are allowed to challenge results in the courts.
McDaniel’s cri de coeur about Republican voters refers to the Cochran campaign’s last minute “get out the vote” drive targeted at Democrats — especially black voters. In Mississippi, however, Republican voters don’t need to decide the Republican primary for the votes to be valid. The state lacks voter registration by party; under state law, anyone who didn’t vote in the June 3 Democratic primary was eligible to vote in the June 24 Republican runoff. Cochran used this fact to his great advantage in the senate primary run-off.
There is one section of Mississippi election law that the McDaniel team seems to think could work to their advantage. That section reads: “No person shall be eligible to participate in any primary election unless he intends to support the nominations made in which he participates.” In other words, if the Democratic voters who helped Cochran win plan to vote for his opponent, former Rep. Travis Childers, in the fall, that would, theoretically, be against Mississippi law.
“I wouldn’t be too optimistic if I were [McDaniel]” says John M. Bruce, head of the University of Mississippi political science department. “This issue has already been adjudicated.” A 2008 decision by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals said that in order for a ballot to be thrown out, poll workers would need to ascertain that the voters already were planning on supporting a different candidate a few months down the road. As Bruce says, “that’s not enforceable”. Bruce — who has lived in Mississippi for over 20 years, says that he can’t remember anyone ever discussing this section of the state’s election law at such length. The 2008 case was mostly unnoticed. “No one even thought about this law,” he noted.
So, resting on the thinnest of thin legal reeds, the McDaniel campaign wants to try to overturn the election results. And in doing so, it seems entirely willing to insult and offend African-American voters by telling them–rather explicitly–that their votes are not welcome in the Republican party. Oh, sure, the McDaniel campaign will justify these shenanigans by claiming that African-American voters do not intend to support Thad Cochran in the general election, but as the excerpt above makes clear, that particular portion of Mississippi is not enforceable. Trying to enforce it will make a mockery of the process, will make a mockery of the 5th Circuit decision referenced in the excerpt above, and will serve to make the Republican party look even worse than it already does in the African-American community. Unless Chris McDaniel is a secret agent for the Democratic party, I cannot imagine why he would want to resort to such tactics. Is he so desperate to win the GOP nomination that he will burn down the Republican party itself in search of that prize?
Last week, the great Howard Baker passed away. In summing up Baker’s public life, I suppose that one could say that he was very much the anti-McDaniel:
Mr. Baker described his political philosophy as “moderate to moderate conservative.” Friendly and unfailingly courteous, he was popular with lawmakers in both parties, a kind of figure almost unrecognizable on Capitol Hill today.
Schooled in the art of compromise by his own powerful father-in-law, Senator Everett M. Dirksen of Illinois, Mr. Baker was heir to a centrist Republican tradition and then its standard-bearer.
He opposed school busing for integration as “a grievous piece of mischief,” yet he supported fair-housing and voting-rights legislation. He championed fiscal conservatism but favored big Pentagon budgets. And when the Watergate affair thrust him into the national limelight, he exhibited a willingness to look hard at the actions of a president from his own party.
Mr. Baker was not above herding feuding partisans into a room and keeping them there until they came to an agreement, often one that he had helped write. By his lights, the Senate aisle was something that often had to be bridged.
[. . .]
He served there from January 1967 to January 1985. He was the minority leader from 1977 to 1981, then majority leader after his party took over the Senate in the 1980 elections. As majority leader, a post he held for four years, he helped pass President Ronald Reagan’s first-term tax cuts. He later helped Reagan weather the Iran-contra scandal.
One may, of course, take issue with Baker’s political leanings and philosophy, but there is no denying the following: (1) Baker could win elections; (2) Baker could deliver substantive accomplishments while serving in the Senate and as Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff; and (3) thanks to Baker’s brand of Senate leadership, other Republicans were able to win elections, and by helping to capture the Senate in 1981 and hold it for the rest of his Senate career, Baker made sure that Republicans were chairs of committees and the majority in the upper body. Baker was interested in building up the Republican party, not tearing it down for his own selfish purposes.
Maybe Chris McDaniel could learn a little something from Howard Baker’s example. But I doubt he ever will.