Mitch McConnell's tea-party opponent: "Not even to the slightest degree am I a proponent of shutting down the government"

Noteworthy, partly because McConnell’s the biggest primary target for grassroots conservatives this year and partly because it’s RINOs who are supposed to categorically reject shutdowns, not tea partiers. Is Bevin categorically rejecting them, though? No, not really. What he’s saying is … actually, after watching the clip twice and reading his interview with Jonathan Strong twice, I’m not sure. He says the October shutdown was “so irresponsible” because the GOP never prepared the public for it with a sustained anti-ObamaCare messaging campaign beforehand. But he also says “not even to the slightest degree am I a proponent of shutting down the government.” That sounds categorical, but maybe he’s just making the same rhetorical move Cruz and Lee did in October, insisting that they didn’t want a shutdown but were prepared to tolerate one if Democrats didn’t meet their demands on “defund.” On that reading, I guess, so long as you’re giving the other side a policy alternative to a shutdown, then you’re not really a “proponent.” Hope Democrats don’t try that next year with the GOP in the Senate, insisting that they’ll refuse to fund the government unless we agree to liberal agenda items X, Y, and Z.

Bevin also applauds Cruz and Lee for taking a principled stand but holds up Reagan and Tip O’Neill as a model of bipartisan compromise to move the country forward. Isn’t the big problem with Mitch McConnell supposedly that he’s too willing to compromise? No, Bevin told Strong; there’s a difference between compromise and capitulation, where you surrender your principles.

Reagan and O’Neill both understood they needed to “focus on what is in the best interest of the country, and of the people, and not specifically what my ideology or party are telling me to do,” he said. “Now in reality — and now I’m just being partisan here, but I’m telling you — when people focus on reality, and pragmatism, and when they focus on what is in the best interest of the country, they do move towards conservative thinking. I’m biased, but I’m telling you. That’s how Reagan got it done, because O’Neill was smart enough to appreciate that Reagan was right. And he wasn’t such a stubborn zealot that he wouldn’t compromise on that.

I’m … pretty sure O’Neill didn’t think Reagan was right. The point of what Bevin’s saying, I guess, is that any deal that leads to a conservative-on-balance outcome is a legit compromise whereas any deal that leads to a liberal-on-balance one is a capitulation. What about McConnell’s deal with Reid to end the shutdown, though? That seems liberal-on-balance because the GOP emerged with next to nothing from it; the whole point from the Republican perspective was simply to stop the bleeding in the polls. Presumably, though, Bevin would have supported the deal since he thinks (and I agree) that the shutdown was a foolish idea in the first place. I don’t know.

Alternate theory: Bevin understands that he’s got to walk a tightrope right now by simultaneously convincing the tea partiers whose votes he needs that he’s a major conservative improvement over McConnell and convincing the rest of the electorate that he’s not going to turn off the tap of federal dollars with a new shutdown if they send him to the Senate. Kentucky’s a red state, but it’s not so red that an unknown Republican couldn’t be bumped off in the general election by a well-supplied Democrat like Alison Lundergan Grimes. So he’s going to give both sides what they need to hear, even if he knots himself up a bit in the telling. He’ll stand on principle with Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, unlike Mitch McConnell; he also won’t do anything drastic like voting to send the government home for two weeks. It’s a rational strategy even if it’s not always perfectly square: After all, chances are high that if you’re open to Bevin, it’s less because of what he’s said on the stump than because you really, really dislike McConnell. All Bevin needs to do, in the primary at least, is give people a reason to think he’ll be better. For tea partiers, when it comes to McConnell, that’s a low bar.

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Duane Patterson 2:01 PM on June 05, 2023