Politics and Grassroots

Brat vs. McDaniel

Tea Partiers should be watching Mississippi and Virginia very closely and watching the difference between two upstart candidates.

In Mississippi, conservative activists feel slighted by national Republican groups who supported Sen. Thad Cochran. Given the last-minute, over-the-top race baiting rhetoric that all but accused the Tea Party of resurrecting Jim Crow laws, you can see where McDaniel supporters are coming from. (Even if the NRSC or other Republicans didn’t green-light the strategy, the guilt-by-association isn’t a huge jump.)

And McDaniel walked right into it.

Even as an incumbent, Thad Cochran was not a great primary candidate.  A good opponent with a good campaign would have knocked him off without even needing a runoff. McDaniel could not jump over the low ankle hurdle of competence. How bad was he? He was a worse candidate than Cochran.

McDaniel’s sketchy connections with neo-Confederate groups were already in the public discourse. So when Cochran’s allies floated the idea of “expanding the electorate” to win the runoff, McDaniel’s response – deploying poll watchers to shoo away ineligibles – fed the narrative. Creating mental images of militant racist whites intimidating black voters was an easy bridge to cross in the minds of many voters.

The right response to Cochran saying he’s expanding the electorate should have been: “Bring it on, Broseph.” Well, maybe not the Broseph part, but you get the picture. He could have added: “I invite all Mississippians who are eligible to come to the polls. As we showed in the runoff, the more people who hear about our vision know that we stand for a brighter vision for all of Mississippi. I welcome the vote of anyone who agrees.” Or something like that.

That’s all he would have had to say. And yet, McDaniel kept talking about outsiders invading the primary- and he’s still talking, exploring ways to challenge the outcome. In defeat, McDaniel has talked more than the guy who pulled an actual upset, Dave Brat.

Brat has been pretty quiet since giving the political world a rare surprise by defeating Rep. Eric Cantor. Think about it: In a world of constant analysis and near-ubiquitous news coverage, no one saw Brat’s win coming. And he didn’t just squeak it out – he beat an incumbent in leadership by 10 points. (Disclosure: The firm I work for did work for Cantor’s campaign.) In the weeks since, outside of a statement criticizing the President’s immigration policies, Brat has been pretty tight-lipped in the national media.

Any so-called “Tea Party” candidate is going to wear a big old target on their back during this election cycle – just like they did in 2012. Democrats looking to cut their losses will surely look to take any candidate’s misstep and blow it up to build a national narrative. Brat hasn’t given them any ammunition; McDaniel practically loaded the guns for them. The candidate class of 2014 will need to speak carefully to avoid McDaniel’s fate.

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