Mitch McConnell (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

How to win over conservatives: Mitch McConnell's desperate gun gambit

The Kentucky senator, never one of the Tea Party’s favorites, does his best to win over the activist crowd


Elias Isquith
March 6, 2014 10:02PM (UTC)

Despite his victory over Tea Party-backed challenger Matt Bevin in Kentucky’s upcoming GOP primary looking all but guaranteed, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — who has always had a uneasy if not downright toxic relationship with the Tea Party — tried his best during a Thursday morning speech at CPAC to prove to the crowd that he was just as wing-nutty as the next guy.

After walking on stage with a prop gun and delivering a lengthy paean to outgoing GOP Sen. Tom Coburn (one of the Tea Party’s favorite senators), McConnell kicked things off with a joke seemingly plucked straight out of a Dennis Miller act. “The president of the United States has treated the Constitution worse than a placemat at Denny’s,” McConnell said and then paused, likely hoping for a more boisterous response from his audience than the tepid chuckles he received.

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But the leader of the Republicans in the Senate soon dispensed with attempts at humor, transitioning immediately into an angry condemnation of the Democratic Party — and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, in particular.

“It never stops,” McConnell said. “It’s just about power for these people. They’ll actually do anything to keep it.” After referencing the so-called IRS scandal — which has been mentioned by nearly every CPAC speaker thus far — McConnell said New York’s senior senator wanted to “make it even harder for conservatives to exercise their first amendment rights.”

Moving on from decrying the oppression of conservatives by the IRS, McConnell next argued that President Obama and his fellow Democrats had overseen an economy that was more unequal, more plutocratic, and more stratified than ever. They did this, McConnell said, by playing “the greatest con game in modern American politics ... the idea that more government is good for the little guy."

“Under this president and Harry Reid,” McConnell continued, "the rich have gotten richer, the poor have gotten poorer, and the middle class is being squeezed like never before. Their Wall Street reforms have shuttered community banks while the biggest banks on Wall Street are getting even bigger.”

How did McConnell explain the seeming disconnect between the Democrats’ describing themselves as concerned with inequality while at the same time perpetuating and intensifying a rigid class system? According to the Kentucky senator, this was the media’s fault.

The media “doesn’t even notice,” McConnell said, because “they’re too busy trying to fix Benghazi for Hillary.”

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Awkward as McConnell’s attempts to endear himself to the crowd may have been, it was clear by the end of the speech that there was a plan behind the his pandering — to convince CPAC’s activist audience to entrust him with the position of Senate Majority Leader next year if the GOP retakes control of the upper chamber, as most here expect it to do.

“If I’m given the opportunity to lead the U.S. Senate next year,” McConnell promised, “I won’t let you down. I will lead with integrity [and] we will fight tooth and nail for conservative reforms to put this country back on track.”

“We will govern with an understanding that future of this country depends on our success,” McConnell continued before vowing that, under his stewardship, Republicans in the Senate would ensure that "the same-old socialist notions that never pan our will finally be put to rest.”

While McConnell’s remarks were received with a polite round of applause, there were no celebratory gunshots to be heard as he exited the stage.

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Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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