Ben Sasse: "Absolutely," I could support Mitch McConnell for Senate majority leader

Smart politics from the likely Republican nominee for Senate in Nebraska, although some of the grassroots righties in his base might disagree. We’ll find out in the comments thread. To refresh your memory, Sasse’s saying this of a guy who declared war on tea-party outside groups months ago:

“I think we are going to crush them everywhere,” Mr. McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, said in an interview, referring to the network of activist organizations working against him and two Republican incumbents in Kansas and Mississippi while engaging in a handful of other contests. “I don’t think they are going to have a single nominee anywhere in the country.”

Some of those same groups spent well over a million bucks on Sasse in Nebraska. A Super PAC tied to McConnell, meanwhile, spent $100,000 trying to defeat him. Now, with the tea partier poised for victory, it’s time to extend the olive branch. Matt Lewis sees this as a sign that Sasse is more likely to be a Marco Rubio in the Senate than a Ted Cruz, someone who’ll be reliably conservative on most issues — but maybe not all? — while not rocking the boat too hard by spearheading any doomed shutdown-related efforts. To quote Sasse himself, “I’m for better conservative ideas and more winsome persuasion, and getting to a majority. So obviously, I’m a team player.”

Forget Rubio and Cruz, though. I think his model vis-a-vis McConnell is Rand Paul, another guy who started out as an enemy of Mitch in a Senate primary but who quickly made nice with the establishment and is now poised to be a serious player in 2016. If Paul, who’ll win tons of tea-party votes in the presidential primaries, can get away with endorsing McConnell over a tea-party challenger in the Kentucky Senate primary, Sasse surely can get away with saying he’ll support McConnell for majority leader if he’s the consensus choice of the caucus. And why wouldn’t he? There’s no sense at this point in needlessly antagonizing the man who’ll be handing out committee assignments next year. In fact, signaling that he’s ready to cooperate with McConnell might even help Sasse at the margins in tonight’s primary: Tea partiers aren’t going to abandon him now, and some of the fencesitters in the rest of the party who don’t want to vote for another Ted Cruz might take this as a sign that Sasse is a safe-ish choice after all. It’s all upside for him, in the short-term at least. If he ends up joining the Gang of Eight and sponsoring an amnesty bill, though, look out.

Exit question: Remember when tea-party favorite Marco Rubio “forgot” to thank the tea party in his 2010 victory speech? Heh.