Setting the Record Straight on McConnell

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has a bone to pick with the tea party. Speaking in an interview not too long ago, he groused that conservatives under the tea party label are ruining the Republican brand and that their continued influence poses unacceptable risks to the upcoming elections in 2014.

“To have the kind of year we ought to have in 2014, we have to have electable candidates on November ballots in every state—people that don’t scare the general electorate and can actually win, because winners make policy and losers go home,” McConnell said.

The kind of principled conservatives McConnell fears are the ones who are getting headlines, raising money, exciting people and changing things in Washington. They are the kind of people who aren’t afraid to stand up for individual rights. Establishment favorite John McCain didn’t filibuster for thirteen hours to protest the killing of American citizens without due process. There was never any #standwithmitch hashtag lighting up twitter like a Christmas tree. McConnell thinks these guys scare the electorate, but it’s really he and his establishment buddies who are scared.

The assertion that the tea party is ruining the Republicans’ brand leads naturally to the question: What brand do they have to lose? What has McConnell accomplished in his many years in the Senate that is so inspiring? Where were the great advances of conservatism when George W. Bush had a Republican Congress? McConnell and friends are not the ones introducing innovative and exciting pieces of legislation. What is it that establishment Republicans really have to offer? Certainly not a vision for the future.

“We can’t just turn the other cheek and hope for the best,” McConnell says. “It didn’t work in 2010 and 2012 so we’re going to try something different in 2014.”

Something different? You mean the “different” policy of running moderate candidates who, when they don’t get trounced, ally with the Democrats to undermine conservative principles? People like Lisa Murkowski who abandon the Party when they can’t win? People like Charlie Crist who turn into Democrats when it is politically expedient? Is that really the bold vision of victory that McConnell thinks will excite the base and persuade undecided voters?

McConnell claims that tea party candidates are unelectable and that the elections in 2010 and 2012 prove that. I draw the opposite conclusion. In 2008, the ultra-moderate, “reasonable,” and eager to compromise John McCain won the Republican nomination only to get crushed by the wave of enthusiasm for new ideas and bold visions that swept Barack Obama into office. 2010 saw a wave of support for outsider candidates in reaction to the corruption of bailouts and cronyism run rampant in the wake of the Great Recession. 2012 saw a bland, uninspiring Mitt Romney get soundly defeated by an incumbent president overseeing the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. If moderate Republicans can’t even win in the incredibly favorable anti-incumbent conditions in 2012, what makes McConnell think they will be able to win now?

The truth is that we’re not ruining the Republican brand, we’re revitalizing it. We don’t win by acting like Democrats. We already have Democrats acting like Democrats. Republicans need to offer a distinct alternative to the idea that government is the solution to all of our problems. The tea party offers that alternative, and whether McConnell likes it or not, they are here to stay.