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Vocal Conservatives Blame Mitch McConnell

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Norquist said he understands why some of the GOP base might be disappointed from afar. However, he said it’s impossible to understand McConnell’s juggling act without gaining access to private meetings where moderate and conservative Members disclose positions on legislation and tactics. Norquist credited McConnell with the GOP’s seven-seat gain in the 2010 elections and said the Kentuckian should be lauded for holding Republicans together, particularly during the 111th Congress.

“He’s held the caucus together when they needed every single Member to filibuster stuff,” Norquist told Roll Call. The anti-tax activist added that, if McConnell was in the habit of pushing some of his centrist Members “too hard” to the right, they might have joined Democrats in supporting key aspects of Obama’s agenda, including the health care bill. Norquist indicated that such an outcome would have been devastating for conservatives.

Norquist’s analysis was essentially supported by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a conservative stalwart who at times has clashed with GOP leadership and opposed the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s preferred candidates in some primary contests. DeMint said the key to moving Senate Republicans in a more conservative direction is to elect more Members with tea party roots.

DeMint said he is confident McConnell will lead the GOP Conference to the right if and when his Members demand he do so, which is why the South Carolinian is working again this cycle to elect Republican primary candidates who share his outlook on the issues. DeMint described Senate Republicans as politically “risk-averse” as they approach an election that offers them a chance to reclaim the majority, and he said of those who believe the Conference has fallen short: “It’s a mistake to try to blame leadership.”

“You can’t move this Conference. It doesn’t matter who [we] have as leader if they don’t want to go. One thing about Senators that I’ve found is they’re not going to go where they don’t want to go,” DeMint said. “I think if we get three or four more solid conservatives in the Senate, it would allow Mitch to lead as I think the conservative that he is.”

A Republican insider with relationships in the Senate discussed the natural tension between leading a diverse Conference, where poor tactical choices could negatively affect GOP prospects for winning the majority, versus the natural desire a philosophical conservative might have to pursue conservative policy reforms.

This source said McConnell’s goal, “for better or worse,” is to try and position Republicans to win the majority, either putting his party in a position to enact conservative reforms — if former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is elected president — or ensuring that Obama will be powerless to move significant legislation should he win a second term.

“This is hard for me personally because I am a conservative, not a Republican,” the insider said. “My conservative view normally is, a loss is better than a marginal win. Unfortunately, an Obama victory redefines ‘loss’ as something that will change America for the worse for decades to come. It is time for conservatives like me to grow up and hope for an aggressive Romney who is willing to do what is right.”

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