Most hilariously tone-deaf political ad of the year: Thad Cochran's appeal to lobbying and pork

Mississippi's GOP senator is desperately trying to save his career via the twin pillars of Trent Lott and cash

Published June 13, 2014 1:55PM (EDT)

Thad Cochran             (AP/Rogelio V. Solis)
Thad Cochran (AP/Rogelio V. Solis)

Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran is from a different time. A time when politicians kept quiet and squirreled away money for their home districts or states and built up insurmountable support that way, staying in office forever. A time when you would trade votes for special pet projects. A more corrupt and blissfully less dramatic time. Ahhhhh.

And this latest ad from Cochran's campaign, ahead of the incumbent's June 24 runoff against Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel, also seems to be from a different time -- a time when such a direct appeal was commonplace and would surely work. It is the Most Establishment Ad Ever.

In the 30-second spot, former awful Senate majority leader from Mississippi and current awful Washington lobbyist Trent Lott basically tells voters that if they don't reelect Cochran, all the pork that Cochran has worked so hard to protect, specifically for the Gulf Coast, is in danger, and so is national security, etc.

Despite the glowing, optimistic visage of Trent Lott, the spot is really a subtle attack ad on McDaniel, who has pooh-poohed the Hurricane Katrina relief package that sent billions of dollars to repair the Gulf Coast -- and, generally, "wasteful" government spending. The thing is, a lot of "wasteful" government spending is the sort of spending that keeps Mississippi afloat. As EJ Dionne explored in a recent Washington Post column:

Mississippi taxpayers get $3.07 back for every $1 they send to Washington, according to Wallet Hub, a personal finance Web site. The Tax Foundation ranks Mississippi No. 1 among the states in federal aid as a percentage of state revenue.

Strange numbers, you’d think, for a Beltway-hating state, but Marty Wiseman, the former director of the Stennis Institute at Mississippi State University, explained the apparent inconsistency. “Our anti-Washington politics has been to make sure that we got as much of it here as we could,” he said. “You’ve got the tea party excited that they’ve corralled a big spender, but he was bringing it back to Mississippi. That’s the paradox of all paradoxes.”

Indeed. “If Mississippi did what the tea party claims they want . . . we would become a Third World country, quickly,” said Rickey Cole, the state Democratic chairman. “We depend on the federal government to help us build our highways. We depend on the federal government to fund our hospitals, our health-care system. We depend on the federal government to help us educate our students on every level.”

Some might see this Lott/Cochran ad as ... sad. Conservative David Freddoso, for example, writes that "I don’t think you’ll ever see a more shameless appeal to pork than this new ad for Thad Cochran."

Well, it's definitely to the point. But while the Brigade of Constitutional Conservatives might see this as "shameless," maybe it's just ... honest? It's refreshing in a very real way. Instead of having some Tea Party upstart with no seniority blab on about the Bill of Rights for 30 seconds, we have a crusty old lobbyist saying, Look: enough with the cutesy tricorner hat bullshit, OK? What do you want, some junior senator prattling on about tyranny, or a possible chairman of the appropriations committee? He will bring you *money.* What is not to fucking get here? M-O-N-E-Y. Sort of how politics works! Jesus ... (We'll write the script of the next ad for a small fee.)

Cochran is losing to McDaniel in early runoff polls. His strategy now appears to be going all-in with the same appeals to pork that couldn't put him over the top to begin with. It must be frustrating to run a campaign in which the same old appeals to good ol' pork don't work anymore.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

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