This seems like it deserves a bit more attention. NBC News talked to three of the top Tea Partyers in the Senate and none of them was willing to endorse Mitch McConnell over his Tea Party opponent, businessman Matt Bevin:
“That’s a decision for the people of Kentucky to make,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said when asked on Thursday if he planned to support McConnell over Bevin.
“I think Sen. McConnell is very capable of taking that challenge on himself,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., adding that he doesn’t typically involve himself in primaries. “Pretend we never talked,” he said, laughing.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, agreed to stop and talk to a reporter about a push he’s leading to defund the president’s health care law. “I would love to have him,” he said when asked if he wants McConnell’s support for that initiative.
Asked a follow up question about whether he planned to support Bevin or McConnell, Lee said: “You’ve gone off topic. Thank you though.”
As the NBC report notes, this is exactly the situation McConnell was trying to avoid.
While no one seems to think McConnell is in danger of losing the primary, this could still have a serious impact on our politics this fall. Democrats who are watching McConnell’s race closely — and who are also preparing for a series of big budget battles after the August recess — believe McConnell is working hard to avoid a scenario in which Bevin becomes a vehicle for Tea Partyers and conservatives nationally. Conservative groups such as the Club for Growth have conspicuously left open the possibility of endorsing Bevin. As Club for Growth’s statement put it: “The Club’s PAC will watch Kentucky’s Senate race – as it would with any race – over the coming months to determine if our involvement is warranted.”
Democrats see in all of this some cause for pessimism about this fall’s budget battles. They believe McConnell’s aggressive and successful effort yesterday to sustain a GOP filibuster of the Senate version of the transportation bill — angering its sponsor, Susan Collins — was driven by McConnell’s need to prove to national conservatives he could keep the GOP unified against compromise with Democrats.
This will figure in upcoming skirmishes, too. McConnell has declined to say whether he supports a government shutdown confrontation to force the defunding of Obamacare. But his Tea Party opponent has since challenged him to pledge support for the defund-Obamacare campaign. This is, of course, the crusade of the moment for Tea Party Senators like Cruz and Lee, and McConnell will have to tread carefully as the pressure to shut down the government to defund Obamacare intensifies.
A similar dynamic will play out around the debt limit. The Tea Party Senators have insisted that Republicans must not enter into budget negotiations unless Dems agree in advance not to push for a debt limit hike as part of the talks. It’s unclear exactly how the Tea Party demand will figure into this fall’s confrontations. But suffice it to say McConnell will be under pressure from the right — pressure that will be exaggerated by McConnell’s own political situation — to extract major concessions from Dems in the form of spending cuts in exchange for any debt ceiling hike. With the White House insisting it will not negotiate over the debt ceiling, that added pressure only makes default more likely.
As Alex Pareene notes in a must read today, Ted Cruz and his fellow Tea Party Senators are not motivated by facts or logic in their quest to force the GOP into ever more epic confrontations this fall. It doesn’t matter how many Republicans of the more serious, sober variety tell Cruz and company that their schemes are unworkable, nutty and even dangerous to the GOP. The Tea Partyers were always supposed to stand down when the establishment GOP told them they were getting too crazy — as is now happening on the push to shut down the government over Obamacare and to a lesser degree on the debt limit — but Cruz and company aren’t following that playbook, and the result has only been more and more accolades and attention from the national conservative entertainment complex. If Dems are right in believing that McConnell needs to watch his back — and take care to avoid becoming a target for Tea Partyers nationally in any real sense — that could only amplify the coming craziness.