Behind every tea party defeat in the Senate lurks Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — at least according to a small but vocal band of conservative activists.
Led by RedState.com’s Erick Erickson, some in the Republican Party’s conservative wing have blamed McConnell for just about everything they view as wrong with Washington, D.C. From the GOP’s failure to block President Barack Obama’s health care law to Sen. Ron Johnson’s (Wis.) defeat in the race for Conference vice chairman at the hands of Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), these activists and commentators see McConnell’s quiet hand.
“There are Democrats, Republicans and appropriators. Mitch McConnell is an appropriator before he’s a Republican,” said Erickson, who is also a CNN contributor. “He’s not willing to engage in the fight; he’s a consummate Washington guy.”
Erickson, speaking today during a brief telephone interview, said McConnell has sided with Republican Conference moderates at the expense of caucus conservatives and the tea-party-inspired reforms they have been pushing. Erickson acknowledged that any Republican governing majority in the Senate will necessarily include moderates from states that lean Democratic. But he accused McConnell of using that fact as “cover” to avoid implementing a conservative agenda.
Some McConnell supporters say the complaints from Erickson, and those who agree with him, are usually personal and unsubstantiated. They point to language Erickson has used to voice his opposition to McConnell’s leadership as proof that the conservative activist and commentator has a personal vendetta against Kentucky’s senior Senator. They contend that such thinking constitutes a minority viewpoint within the tea party activist community that enjoys an outsized megaphone.
One example supporters provided comes from a January 2009 Erickson post on RedState.com, in which he criticized the Minority Leader for pushing bipartisanship in the immediate aftermath of the Democrats’ 2008 election wins: “I’ve said [McConnell] lost his testicles and is now spreading a cancer of capitulation throughout the Senate Republican Conference. We need to send Mitch some balls. Seriously. We’re teaming up with the Don’t Go Movement to do just that.”
More recently, Erickson’s blog blamed McConnell staff for being behind a Roll Call story about a staff shake-up in Johnson’s office.
Said a Bluegrass State Republican operative: “Every single week he has some slam on Mitch McConnell. It doesn’t echo anywhere — certainly not in Kentucky.”
But the conservative base is not monolithic, and many of the community’s prominent activists hold a different view from Erickson. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, gave McConnell high marks for his voting record and leadership of Senate Republicans.
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.
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