Thad Cochran’s triumph over Chris McDaniel in Tuesday’s run-off election in Mississippi was perhaps the most demoralizing of all the primary losses of conservative upstarts versus establishment incumbents this election cycle — both in the closeness of the race and the legal but dubious way in which it was determined by Democrats.
Unfortunately, I fear that the lessons of Cochran’s victory are far more consequential than those of Dave Brat’s remarkable win over now ex-Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia.
The overarching lessons that conservatives should take away from what happened in Mississippi are threefold:
- Never ever underestimate the power of the GOP establishment, and the number of chits that a politician who has held a seat for 36 years can call in. During such time, Cochran accumulated an infinite amount of political capital that he cashed in on Tuesday, earned by raising millions of dollars and campaigning for colleagues over the years, while loading up bill after bill with pork.
- The first rule of politics is “win.” Those who comprise the establishment will do everything legally possible to retain power. Such politicians will take advantage of voting rules, parliamentary procedures and any other loopholes they can to gain an edge. In elections, when it comes to below-the-belt tactics, these folks will use people one or two or three degrees removed from them do their bidding so as to maintain plausible deniability and a veneer of dignity. This would explain, for example, the horrifically offensive, anonymously produced campaign literature that reportedly went out in the heavily black, heavily Democratic voting precincts that carried Thad Cochran to victory. For those who are ideologically pure, who do not have a similar party machine and who disavow such unsavory tactics to win, electoral success is made that much harder. They will keep their souls, and others will win elections, to the detriment of the country.
- Electoral wins for true conservatives are going to be incidental — the exception, not the rule. Politics reflects the culture, and the culture is repudiating every bedrock principle on which the country is based. If the 2012 presidential election told us anything, it’s that we are no longer a center-right country. This is because Barack Obama’s reelection reflected a pervasive reflexively leftist mindset which in my view animates the majority of the country — people by and large are not demanding freedom, completely asleep at the wheel, nor do they even understand it. The pillars of the American system of individual liberty, property rights and free-market capitalism — upheld by a culture imbued with the Judeo-Christian ethic — and the political system that such principles entail are simply anathema to most Americans. Look at some of the comments the New York Times picked out from interviews with those who came out to vote for Thad Cochran on Tuesday. This is what Democratic voters think about a McDaniel agenda, and I suspect that with a more comprehensive view of his ideology and the policies it implies, they would be even more critical:
- “Jeanie Munn, who lives in Hattiesburg, said Mr. McDaniel ‘represents a threat to the state.’ She cited a vote he cast in the State Senate against a new nursing school building at the University of Southern Mississippi.”
- “Roger Smith, a black Democrat who said he was being paid to organize for Mr. Cochran, said, ‘I don’t know too much about McDaniel other than what McDaniel’s saying: that he’s Tea Party, he’s against Obama, he don’t like black people.’ ‘You’re going to get one of the white guys in there,’ he said. ‘You got to make a choice.'”
- “Heath Kleinke, 38, held his 4-month-old baby and said he wanted her to get a good education in Mississippi, something he believed would be made more difficult if Mr. McDaniel were to make good on his proposal to cut federal funding.”
- “Kino Sintee, 17, and three black friends waved ‘Thad’ signs on a street corner in a black Hattiesburg neighborhood. They said the preacher from Mount Olive Baptist Church asked them to help out. ‘They’re talking about taking everything away from us,’ he said. ‘People still need stuff.'”
[sharequote align=”center”]The culture is repudiating every bedrock principle on which the country is based[/sharequote]
Meanwhile, faster than you can say “McDaniel,” the New York Times in an op-ed out today immediately called for a quid pro quo. Now that Sen. Cochran won the primary thanks to his Democratic champions, he owes it to them to support a “stronger Voting Rights Act and actively…[work] to reduce his party’s extreme antigovernment policies.”
Certainly the shrewd Michael Bloomberg is expecting an adequate return on his $250,000 investment.
Unfortunately, as someone who was overjoyed by Dave Brat’s amazing upset, and as someone who recognizes the magnitude of knocking out a sitting majority leader, Cochran’s win is in my view far more significant in what it represents in the broader battle of conservatives versus the establishment.
If Brat had been in a runoff, I predict he would have lost in a similarly agonizing fashion because Rep. Cantor would have mobilized the party and called in every possible favor he had to crush Brat. But in Virginia’s 7th district where Democrats cannot vote across party lines in primaries, the confluence of factors including anti-establishment sentiment, Cantor’s general lack of focus on his district and the anarchy on the southern border, combined with the minimal and heavily partisan turnout inherent to primaries did the GOP leader in.
Such a scenario as Brat’s is anomalous, and far easier to replicate in a particular district than a statewide race.
As the establishment has thus far dominated the midterm election cycle, I believe that Cochran’s win is far more significant than Cantor’s loss in what it means for conservatives: Insurgent Tea Party candidates face serious political disadvantages — part institutional, part tactical, part ideological — but which at root result from an underlying lack of competitiveness in the war of ideas with the left, including leftists on the “right.”
A lifelong pork barrel politician like Thad Cochran could not survive to serve a 7th term in the U.S. Senate were it any other way.
While political victories are necessary, such political success will only be noise unless it is sustained by taking on our monolithically leftist cultural institutions. The decades-long disadvantage here portends similarly devastating electoral results not just in 2014 but in 2016 and beyond.
Feature Image: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
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