Mitch McConnell: Tea Party hostage

Less than 48 hours after the election, the top Senate Republican calls for President Obama's defeat in 2012

Topics: Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., War Room, 2010 Elections, 2012 Elections, Barack Obama, Tea Parties,

Mitch McConnell: Tea Party hostageFILE - In this June 16, 2010 file photo, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., center, flanked by House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, right, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. Republican leaders, ever more confident of their chances of winning control of the House and possibly the Senate, have begun plotting a 2011 agenda topped by a push for eye-popping spending cuts and attempts to undo key parts of President Barack Obama's health care and financial regulation laws. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)(Credit: AP)

Let’s be clear why Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s Republican leader, decided less than 48 hours after the midterm results were announced to deliver a speech to a right-wing organization reiterating his previous statement that the GOP’s top priority should be President Obama’s defeat in 2012: He’s feeling the heat from the Tea Party.

“Over the past week,” McConnell said Thursday morning at the Heritage Foundation, “some have said it was indelicate of me to suggest that our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term in office. But the fact is, if our primary legislative goals are to repeal and replace the health spending bill, to end the bailouts, cut spending and shrink the size and scope of government, the only way to do all these things is to put someone in the White House who won’t veto any of these things.”

McConnell has been the top Senate Republican since 2006 and his post is safe — for now. But several allies of his main intraparty foe, Tea Party godfather Jim DeMint, were elected on Tuesday, including Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, McConnell’s fellow Kentuckian. DeMint doesn’t have the votes for oust McConnell as leader, but he can cause him plenty of grief because of his bond with the Tea Party passes who — as they demonstrated in primary after primary this year — now hold sway in the GOP. DeMint is unafraid to accuse his fellow Senate Republicans of ideological heresy, and if he decides in the coming months that McConnell is charting an insufficiently confrontational course as leader, he’ll surely speak up. If Republican senators are then forced to choose between DeMint’s strategy and McConnell’s, they’ll face a powerful incentive to buck their leader: the threat of a primary challenge. As Christine O’Donnell and Joe Miller demonstrated this year, if Republican primary voters are confronted with a “sell-out” establishment candidate, they are — at least for now — willing to vote for literally anyone else, general election consequences be damned.



This is the backdrop against which McConnell, a quintessential establishment Republican (he voted for TARP!), delivered his remarks today. Consider it an early effort to curry favor with his party’s base and to inoculate himself against any future accusations from DeMint (or any other Tea Party titans) that he’s compromising too much with Obama.

In this, there is clear political opportunity for Obama. McConnell’s speech today demonstrates the extent to which he’ll be hogtied by the Tea Party over the next two years, unable to pursue any serious compromise with Obama and the Democrats without risking an insurrection from his party’s base. Which means that McConnell and the GOP may well end up pushing the same sort of politically toxic agenda that Newt Gingrich’s Republican “revolutionaries” pursued when they took power in 1995. Which would put Obama in position to present himself the same way Clinton did back then — as the last line of defense against a band of fervent ideologues who had misread and over-interpreted an election result and who were trying to destroy the country’s social safety net. That’s a different role than Obama has been playing the last two years — and, potentially, a more popular one.

Steve Kornacki

Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 9
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Tiny House Living

    Tiny Houses

    Tiny House Living

    Tiny Houses

    Tiny House Living

    Tiny Houses

    Tiny House Living

    Tiny Houses

    Tiny Houses

    Tiny House Living

    Tiny Houses

    Tiny House Living

    Tiny Houses

    Tiny House Living

    Tiny Houses

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>