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

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"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. American Worker

    That kind of talk is why there is a growing viability for a Third Party.

    But a Third Party would have to have the kind of exposure that a Primary Season gives viable candidates. Waiting until the General election does not allow the time and exposure needed to inform the electorate.

    March 10, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  2. BooBooBubby

    Ben.. a party divided cannot stand on any principle.

    March 10, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  3. Duke

    Let them tear themselves apart. Many wild animals will eat their young if they think they need to.
    It's feeding time and we ain't at the zoo.

    March 10, 2014 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  4. Thomas

    So much for what Reagan said. Democrats you are winning for two reasons. One, half the country has it's hand out and is just going to vote for the party that will give them the most stuff. Republicans are not perfect in this area, but they pale in comparison to the Dems. And two all this infighting in the Republican party.

    But don't live under the delusion that you are winning because of your ideas. They are bankrupt. Just think about the absurdity of claiming that you could insure 30 million new people, save each family and average of $2500, reduce the deficit, cost less than 1 Trillion over 10 years, and everyone could stay on their current health plan and doctor is they wanted. That's the bill of good the Democrat leadership sold the country an not one Republican lawmaker voted for it. And now here is how it is playing out:

    Premiums are going up on average 41%, it is going to cost 2 Trillion over 2 years, millions are getting booted out of there health plans, and the CBO projects that at the 10 year mark about the same number of people will be covered.

    Talk about a shocking failure.

    March 10, 2014 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  5. pkfops01

    "Grass Roots Vote" = Koch Puppet

    March 10, 2014 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  6. ObeySparky

    The chickens are coming home to roost. I do believe we are in the end times of the GOP of a viable national party. Three or four more election cycles and they'll be finished. Unless they somehow are able to undo the image of hatred, division, lack of diversity and stale ideas that they have brought on themselves.

    March 10, 2014 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  7. John

    There will be no uniting with the Tea Party. You can't unite with extremists. They're long past due to dry up and blow away. Y'all don't come back now, y'hear?

    March 10, 2014 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  8. OmniPotent

    I am a Veteran and a Gun owner. I don't buy into all the tea party wacko stuff. This party watches way too much Fox opinion news. If the TP members would open their eyes and use some critical critical thinking skills, they would see BS and lies coming out of the party. Tea party needs to go away. Far away. We want our Republican Party back.

    March 10, 2014 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  9. John

    There will be no uniting with the Tea Party. You can't unite with extremists. They're long past due to fade away. Y'all don't come back now, y'hear?

    March 10, 2014 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  10. Strategic Bob

    The nation would be a lot better off if the TEA Party types and the GOP establishment would stop taking these kinds of verbal potshots at each other and started using real guns.

    March 10, 2014 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  11. musician

    Ah, the Tea Party. They want cuts (for things they don't like anyway), they want less regulation (of the specific things they choose), they want more freedom (except for those who have different morals and beliefs then theirs), lower taxes (for themselves), and smaller government (opening the door wide for The New American Oligarchy, where multi-national corporations will run the show, unchallenged).

    March 10, 2014 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  12. Joseph

    Who donates more to political campaigns? The Koch brother to the GOP or The Unions to the DEMS?
    Answer: The unions donate way more money.

    So who is in who' pocket?

    Dems are killing our country and dividing the people. Then they leave their voters with all the lies they told to get elected. So who would be foolish enough to put them back in office again.

    March 10, 2014 01:57 pm at 1:57 pm |
  13. freeme10

    Tea Party is akin to the United Kingdom Independence Party in the U.K. Similar platforms and they just pull votes away from the Conservatives.

    March 10, 2014 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  14. Rudy NYC


    So much for what Reagan said. Democrats you are winning for two reasons. One, half the country has it's hand out and is just going to vote for the party that will give them the most stuff. Republicans are not perfect in this area, but they pale in comparison to the Dems. And two all this infighting in the Republican party.
    Actually, it is Republicans who have mastered the art of using "free stuff" to win elections. Reaganonmics was designed to benefit the uber-wealthy, but he needed votes to win and stay in office. It was Reagan who introduced our current progressive tax system that allows "47%' of people to little or no taxes at all. It was Reagan who grranted illegal aliens amnesty, and the Bushess who modifed the rules for the IRS I-9 form, which made it easier to hire illegal aliens.

    More recently, it was George W. Bush who had granted tax cuts in the summer of 2004 to gain more support of voters so that he could win re-election. I challenge you to name the free stuff Democrats have given away. BTW, those free government phones, that was Reagan, too.

    March 10, 2014 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
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