March 10th, 2014
12:20 PM ET
5 months ago

Tea Party pushes back against McConnell

(CNN) - The leaders of some national tea party groups aren't taking kindly to tough talk by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The top Senate Republican, who's running for re-election this year, said over the weekend that he's not concerned about facing a tea party supported primary challenger back home in Kentucky.


"I think we are going to crush them everywhere," McConnell told the New York Times in an interview. "I don't think they are going to have a single nominee anywhere in the country."

McConnell is one of 12 Republican senators running for re-election this year and half face primary challenges from the right. McConnell's words were directed at the conservative groups supporting those candidates and attacking incumbents up for re-election.

Tea party groups, as expected, were blistering with their responses.

"It is shameful that the Senate minority leader would make such comments. He is talking about the base of the party, so he must not want the tea party vote in the general election and that is why he should be removed. The GOP needs a uniter, not someone that is there because they have seniority," Amy Kremer, the Tea Party Express chair, told CNN.

"The days of the good ole boy club are coming to an end.  This seat doesn't belong to Mitch McConnell or to the Republican Party. This seat belongs to ‘We the People’ and we will have our voices heard," Kremer added.

"Grassroots voters will not be bullied by self-anointed senators for life," said Matt Kibbe, president and CEO of FreedomWorks. "Mitch McConnell and his cronies still serve the people back home, and his hostile comments only provide more motivation to send new leadership to Washington."

"Does Senator McConnell have a political death wish?  There was some division within tea party groups about whether to support him or support Matt Bevin and I think he just settled the issue," chimed in Judson Phillips, founder of the Tea Party Nation, told CNN.

McConnell's real target

McConnell, who's running for a sixth term, launched a hard hitting radio ad Friday against Bevin, a Louisville businessman who is his primary challenger. The spot also slammed the Senate Conservatives Fund, a Washington-based organization that's one of the groups backing Bevin and trying to oust McConnell.

"As Sen. McConnell has said repeatedly, he is a big fan of the Tea Party and is proud to count many members, both in Kentucky and across the country, as his friends and allies. His comments were limited strictly to the Senate Conservatives Fund who have proven time and again to be bad actors more interested in attacking Republicans to raise money than actual conservative governance," Allison Moore, spokeswoman for McConnell's campaign, told CNN.

Since the birth of the tea party movement in 2009, many primary challenges from the right  backed by these groups have produced major headlines and headaches for Republicans and hurt their chances of recapturing the Senate in the past two election cycles.

Some in the GOP say the party effectively gave away five Senate seats in 2010 and 2012 because of candidates who weren't capable of winning in November.

A veteran Republican strategist assessed McConnell's comments.

"This debate isn't about the tea party movement which has been a positive force in re-focusing much needed attention on the serious fiscal challenges facing our country. It's about the D.C.-based groups that have been propping up weak candidates and attacking Republicans under the banner of conservative purity so they can line their own pockets and expand their own power and influence in Washington," GOP strategist Brian Walsh told CNN.

"Groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund have misled grassroots voters across the country and cost Republicans several critical Senate seats the last two cycles so Senator McConnell and other Republicans are right to expose them as the snake oil salesmen that they are," added Walsh, who served as communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee the past two cycles.

Matt Hoskins, who heads the Senate Conservatives Fund, dismissed the criticism and says McConnell's tough talk is a sign his group's actions were working.

"Mitch McConnell is on the attack because Matt Bevin is gaining broad support in Kentucky and across the country. Bevin's hard work, along with the efforts of local Tea Party groups and national organizations like FreedomWorks and Madison Project, are beginning to show real results," Hoskins told CNN.

Where the challenges stand

Polls indicate McConnell far ahead of Bevin in the May 20 primary. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, easily defeated a group of challengers from the right, including controversial conservative Rep. Steve Stockman, in last week's Lone Star State primary.

Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Pat Roberts of Kansas also face conservative primary challenges.

"The establishment is off to a good start with John Cornyn's victory in Texas, but it's far too early to declare all of Republican senators Safe in their primaries. I think you're hearing an emboldened McConnell because he must be feeling more confident about his own primary. But that doesn't mean that his colleagues in Mississippi, Kansas, or South Carolina are in the same position," Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report, told CNN.

CNN Chief National Correspondent John King said two things stood out from McConnell's comments.

"Mitch McConnell is one of the most disciplined politicians in America. This tells me, number one, that he's reached his boiling point, not only with his own primary challenge back home but with his friends being primary challenged by these tea party and conservative challengers. Number two, it also tells me McConnell wouldn't say that if he not convinced he's going to beat them, crush them," King said.

General election repercussions?

While polls indicate McConnell far ahead of Bevin in the primary, he faces a much more difficult Democratic opponent in November, in Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Phillips, the head of Tea Party Nation, says McConnell's tough talk now could come back to bite him come November.

"The grass roots, such as the Tea Party, does the heavy lifting in a campaign.  If we don't show up in the general, not only to be the boots on the ground but also to vote, McConnell will see his 30-year Senate career come to an end," Phillips warned.


Filed under: 2014 • Kentucky • Mitch McConnell • Senate Primaries • Senate Republicans • Tea Party
soundoff (64 Responses)
  1. quinLee

    guess he didn't get much return on that shot gun gimmick.

    March 10, 2014 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |
  2. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House

    "I think we are going to crush them everywhere,"
    ---------------------------------–
    Don't count your chickens before they hatch Mitch. It would be hilarious if democrats voted for your primary challenger.

    March 10, 2014 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  3. Rudy NYC

    from the article:

    Since the birth of the tea party movement in 2009, many primary challenges from the right backed by these groups have produced major headlines and headaches for Republicans and hurt their chances of recapturing the Senate in the past two election cycles.
    ---------------------–
    2009? I guess it depends upon your point of view. The Tea Party was around during the 2008 general election campaigns. That was when it was actually a genuine grass roots organization comprised of people who felt they were "taxed enough already." I saw liberals, moderates, and conservatives alike show strong interest in a group of citizens protesting high taxes. It almost had the atmosphere of "Occupy Wall Street" in a way.

    I knew many liberals who joined up, or wanted to. But, they were all turned off when the Tea Party Movement was co-opted in 2009 by big money donors. So, I guess you could say that what we see today was, in fact, born in 2009.

    March 10, 2014 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  4. MaryM

    I am not a fan of McConnell but the Koch funded TPers have got to go., The TPers have destroyed the once great republican party

    March 10, 2014 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  5. Gurgyl

    GOP is totally dead, defunct for fifty years or so. No fool buys them anymore.

    March 10, 2014 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  6. Fair is Fair

    Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House

    "I think we are going to crush them everywhere,"
    -----------–
    Don't count your chickens before they hatch Mitch. It would be hilarious if democrats voted for your primary challenger.
    ------–
    Pretty hard to do since Kentucky has a closed primary, genius.

    March 10, 2014 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  7. Tampa Tim

    What do you baggers want? After all Mitch carried a gun on stage.

    March 10, 2014 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  8. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House

    Fair is Fair
    Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House

    "I think we are going to crush them everywhere,"
    ---––
    Don't count your chickens before they hatch Mitch. It would be hilarious if democrats voted for your primary challenger.
    --–
    Pretty hard to do since Kentucky has a closed primary, genius.
    ----------------------------------
    That just sucks Fair. I just want to see Mitch go. What's wrong with that?

    March 10, 2014 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  9. carlos

    These two parties should be separate. They don't represent the same things or the same people. This is becoming an untenable coalition.

    March 10, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  10. Tampa Tim

    We need to make McConnell. 5 term senator. Vote for Grimes.

    March 10, 2014 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  11. Silence DoGood

    The similarities to the Taliban of the Tea Party cannot be overlooked:
    – religious fervor and intolerance of outside or non-extreme religion
    – attempts to instill moral laws to establish a state religion in the end, ignoring other faiths
    – looking at women as second class so that they can be told what to do with their bodies and how to behave
    – espousing violence at rallies and in speeches threatening to overthrow the popular secular government
    – carrying guns and shooting them in the air to intimidate those with whom they disagree
    – intolerance of racial differences
    – intolerance of private behavior not in line with the one religion i.e. anti-gay, etc.
    – looking to reduce education by removing subjects not in line with the one religion

    March 10, 2014 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  12. Ben

    Dissension and disagreement is a good thing. Far better a party with internal debate than one where everyone marches in lockstep groupthink and makes racists insults towards anyone who doesn't toe the party line. Yes, that's the Democrats I am referring to, and their propensity to go full racist when a minority dares to reveal conservative leanings. you oughta see some of the stuff they call Clarence Thomas and Ben Carson and Condi Rice.

    March 10, 2014 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  13. jimmy boyea

    This is the guy running around his convention with a weapon last week and he thinks he's not part of the Tea Party? who is he trying to fool? No self respecting person running for office would do that.

    March 10, 2014 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  14. t

    ..get RID of the lunatic fringe Tea Party types................and appeal to the MIDDLE OF GTHE BELL CURVE, and become winners again
    ....GOP.......go back to your roots of social fairness and LIBERTY, with a strong sense of Defense and financial conservatism.........................
    .
    .....and STOP THE SOCIAL ISSUES ALL TOGETHER....................

    March 10, 2014 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  15. njx

    Every day, the Democratic Party gives thanks for the Tea Party.

    March 10, 2014 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  16. fish

    The Tea party are anarchists believing that ANY government is bad government which is impossible!!! People must have government to survive else we would be animals with no rules nor basis of society. Government is not perfect by any means but the American government is thee best yet conceived!!!

    March 10, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  17. A traveler

    Just because they have a "closed" primary doesn't mean that some peoples will change their party affiliation just to 'stack the deck' against the near dead GOP.

    March 10, 2014 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  18. Rudy NYC

    Silence DoGood

    The similarities to the Taliban of the Tea Party cannot be overlooked:
    – religious fervor and intolerance of outside or non-extreme religion
    – attempts to instill moral laws to establish a state religion in the end, ignoring other faiths
    – looking at women as second class so that they can be told what to do with their bodies and how to behave
    – espousing violence at rallies and in speeches threatening to overthrow the popular secular government
    – carrying guns and shooting them in the air to intimidate those with whom they disagree
    – intolerance of racial differences
    – intolerance of private behavior not in line with the one religion i.e. anti-gay, etc.
    – looking to reduce education by removing subjects not in line with the one religion
    ------------------------–
    The word "taliban" has no direct translation, but it conveys the meaning of an orthodox being who is the "master teacher".

    March 10, 2014 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  19. Gary

    "This seat doesn't belong to Mitch McConnell or to the Republican Party. This seat belongs to ‘We the People’ and we will have our voices heard," Kremer added.
    Sorry Kremer, you are not "The People". You are only a slight majority in a few voting districts. You do not in any way represent "The People".

    March 10, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  20. Atiq

    Tea Party = The American version of Taliban

    March 10, 2014 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  21. Fair is Fair

    "That just sucks Fair. I just want to see Mitch go. What's wrong with that?"
    ------
    Knock yourself out... but if you think about Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and potentially Massachusetts all flipping, you might be calling him Majority Leader McConnell.

    March 10, 2014 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  22. QS

    "This debate isn't about the tea party movement which has been a positive force in re-focusing much needed attention on the serious fiscal challenges facing our country."

    LMAO! Classic!

    March 10, 2014 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  23. reasonablebe

    maybe mcconnell finally gets it. go too far to the right, split the party, gop in toto loses, becomes irrelevant- no chance to do anything other than obstruct everyone else, bring the country down, like a child who says if i can't have my way i'll ruin it for everyone....

    gop should split off from the tea party. then form alliances with moderate dems with whom they can negotiate and get some things done– things both sides agree will help, rather than hurt....

    what has been going on the last 6 years in lunacy... no mr. cruz, the country does not think your ideas are better, in fact they don't even think they are marginally good.... its not the phrasing, it's the message and idea most people don't agree with.... rephrasing to mislead won't change that.

    think about it.... someone has to pay for the roads and infrastructure, and if you don't do it through taxes, public roads will be sold off to private parties–which will turn them into toll roads (in essence, regressive taxation, since the price is the same for everyone in same axelled vehicle, so poor have to dish out greater % of their income)-–

    think boulder county colorado. someone has to pay for maintenance and upkeep, expansion, improvement, whatever. if you think this will be cheaper, think again- now there is a profit motive.... only delusions would make you think it won't be more expensive to all.

    March 10, 2014 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  24. Grampa

    If McConnell crushes his Tea Party opponent and then gets crushed by his Democratic opponent, well, it just doesn't get much better than that!

    March 10, 2014 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  25. M.A.

    The get-ups worn provided for some entertainment.

    March 10, 2014 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
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