March 10th, 2014
12:20 PM ET
9 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. jan smith

    A take no prisoners approach does neither party or the country good in the long run. Every party will have its unruly internal factions who have a legitimate point of view but express it so narrowly or aggressively that it becomes valueless or counterproductive. Good leadership can find a way to work with these factions, allowing them to say their piece without dominating the conversation.

    March 10, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  2. SteveInMN

    You go, Conservaterds!!!

    Infight your way to total FAILURE at the polls!!

    EX-cellent!

    March 10, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  3. Ray

    I don't like McConnell, or just about anything he has said in front of the Senate microphone. So it comes as a complete surprise that he should make such a sensible statement regarding the Tea Party. If ever a political group needed crushing, it is that bunch of knuckleheads.

    March 10, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  4. Gunderson

    Aw, So,
    The "Tea" Party" isn't the problem. If the National Debt wasn't over 17 Trillion Dollars, Unemployment below 4 Percent and most everybody prosperous there would be no "Tea Party".People are sick and tired of big government and all the Ills it has brought. When are some of you going to wake up. The Country is in Huge Debt and the Poiticians are playing Nero. You asked for it, you voted for it, now you have it. Too many of you Passed the Buck. The Bill is coming due. And the "King" has no clothes.

    March 10, 2014 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  5. barbarabarham

    Good-Now the conservatives are attacking each other. That a Grand Old Party!

    March 10, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  6. Beverly

    Time to vote out all incumbents no matter which party they're in. Enough is enough.

    March 10, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  7. conoclast

    'Does Senator McConnell have a political death wish?' Not hardly; the man is, if nothing else, a political pro; if he says the mainstream GOP (whatever that is) will 'crush the tea party' in November then there might just be something he knows that they don't, hmm?

    March 10, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  8. Greg

    Ironically, this right wing agenda benefits only the rich, not the lower and middle class trailer park residents supporting them.

    March 10, 2014 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  9. David

    "The days of the good ole boy club are coming to an end"

    Unfortunately, the Republican Party's worst enemy seems to be itself

    March 10, 2014 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  10. dr. vinny boombotts

    Democrats will pretty much own the White House for the next twenty years because of the ineptitude and ridiculousness that has defined the current Republican Party. The only reason they win any seats in the House is because of the extensive gerrymandering that has taken place.

    March 10, 2014 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  11. SoCalMatt

    Good for Mitch, the Tea Party is dividing the GOP and does not represent "We The People" like they say..........they represent 10% of the people and bark louder than they bite. The Tea Party needs to fizzle out, to say it nicely.

    March 10, 2014 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  12. Sam I am

    I hate to agree with Mitch McConnell on anything. Still, it would be good for the country if the Tea Party took a beating in the 2014 Republican primaries. These are, by and large, dangerous lunatics who have NO IDEA what the responsibilities of holding office in America means.

    March 10, 2014 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  13. Wayne McMichael

    The Tea Party are the real republicans. What encouraging news:) He sees the Tea Party as his nemesis and not the democrat party, which he apparently sees as an ally. That kind of thinking is why there is a Tea Party now. Hopefully the Convention of States will continue to build support and we can get rid of the McConnell kind of trash for good, and never have to be abused by a self absorbed self aggrandizing slim ball like that again, or at the very least limit it's infectious period.

    March 10, 2014 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  14. Carol

    The GOP needs to get their party's beliefs in coordination, and stop the tea party vs Conservative GOP. Is the Republican Party standing together or not. How can anyone in the Republican Party expect to win another election if they keep kicking each other in the knees? How can anyone know what they will do for America? Democrats have the same problem, most of us didn't know we were voting for a left Administration. We do not want split parties wrecking our U.S.A., and ending up giving us extremist governments.

    March 10, 2014 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  15. TheSadTruth

    Elections draw nearer, and NOW we hear criticism of the T.P. from some in the G.O.P.? Convenient timing.
    Republicans are well known for eating each other alive to promote their personal careers, this is no different. Saying you'll crush the T.P. and actually doing it are two different things. The T.P. hydra has many heads, thanks to funding via the Koch brothers. McConnell has plenty of other fake grass roots organizations to work towards the Koch agenda if the T.P. is falling out of favor.

    March 10, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  16. William Wallace

    Tea Partiers know they need the Republicans for survival. Without the GOP, tea partiers are inept and cannot advance their agenda. Their wants will fall on deaf ears. Tea partiers are mostly right-wing nuts, proven unable to govern once elected to office. They hate government but insist to be part of government. This is the ultimate oxymoron. They seek only to destroy institutions that they fight to be a part of.

    The GOP will always exist. They don't need the tea partiers. GOP billionaires and benefactors like the Koch brothers use the tea partiers to do their dirty bidding. They view these folks with contempt. They are nothing but a tool to stick it to the Dems. These rich oligarchs will support the likes of McConnell and Boehner. They use Cruz and Rubio as barking dogs. They are nothing but barking dogs.

    March 10, 2014 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  17. UrMom

    There is no Tea Party. It was born long ago before the 2008 election cycle and was then hijacked by opportunistic republicans and the establishment. They challenged the establishment and now the establishment wants to use them as a scapegoat for their own failures. The republican party is dead and the libertarian base is so fed up with the RINOs the GOP gives us time and time again, that they are willing to destroy the party completely and go libertarian. Moving forward, there will be the religious nuts supporting the republican establishment, the (fiscal conservative socially liberal, liberty loving libertarians) and the democrats. The republicans were asleep at the wheel and are now dying a slow death by the likes of mccain, romney, christie, the rest of the bog gov rino's and this old fake mitch! Gotta love the pandering attempt with the shotgun. pathetic.

    March 10, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  18. stanton allaben

    The tea baggers are done. A flash in the pan. Run by idiots. cya!!

    March 10, 2014 01:42 pm at 1:42 pm |
  19. Pad

    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.
    _______________________________________

    The Tea Party of today is nowhere near the Tea Party Ron Paul created. That was a libertarian party. The Tea Party of today has been taken over by religious right fanatics fighting for social causes.

    March 10, 2014 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  20. not really news

    We liberals hate the tea party but we actually need them. These foolish extremist are creating just enough trouble to make it possible for Democrats to take over red states..

    March 10, 2014 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  21. PHinMiami

    The Tea Party OWNS the GOP. They (the GOP) opened up a Pandora's Box when they validated TP antics, or similarly kept quiet about it. Much like Ms. Palin, they're having a hard time putting them back in their Box.

    March 10, 2014 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  22. Steve

    Just the republicans moving to center for the election, nothing to see here.

    March 10, 2014 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  23. john

    The only thing that unites these Tea party folks is any thing Obama stand for they are against. McConnell this and know how fickle minded they are as they vote against their own interest because of hate. So its easier to get them to the poll after he defeats Bevin. What a situation!!!!!

    March 10, 2014 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  24. Gilbert_Montemayor

    The GOP need to eradicate that cancer that has infested their ranks. or else the GOP will be doom.

    March 10, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  25. Joseph

    I would take a Tea party candidate over these long sitting career politicians any day of the week. Dems need to go and so do the long life, aging republicans. Time for the Tea party to have their shot at it.

    March 10, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
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