The Republican senate primary in Mississippi between incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran and challenger State Sen. Chris McDaniel is one of the most competitive — and bitter — races of 2014 and has opened up new wounds between the Republican establishment and the tea party grassroots.
After the first round of voting last Tuesday left the race undecided, the race now moves to a June 24 runoff that will finally determine who will be the the Republican nominee. McDaniel finished with an extremely thin margin over Cochran, but he didn’t earn enough votes to cross the 50% threshold needed to secure the nomination.
But the result of the runoff will not resolve what many see as a growing civil war within the GOP between the two factions represented by the Senate candidates in Mississippi. Earlier primaries this year saw establishment candidates — such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — safely defeat tea party challenges and prompted many to pen obituaries for the insurgent conservative movement.
But to longtime conservative activist and movement leader Richard Viguerie — whose newest book “Takeover” details the internal war for the soul of the GOP — McDaniel forcing a runoff which he is predicted to win proves that the tea party is far from dead.
“The fact we could beat an incumbent senator is huge. It is just electrifying to conservatives,” Viguerie told The Daily Caller when discussing how McDaniel was able to take on one of the most powerful sitting Republican senators and force a runoff.
Viguerie remains unconvinced that the setbacks that befell the tea party earlier this year has dampened its momentum. He believes that powerful establishment figures like McConnell and Speaker of the House John Boehner having to campaign hard and raise large warchests just to fend off challengers shows his side is still going strong. He also pointed out that many of these establishment candidates are forced to run to the right of their challengers which, in his opinion, shows the growing acceptance and power of tea party ideas.
“The losses we have is because the incumbent did not run on their record — they all began to sound more tea party than tea party candidates,” Viguerie explained. “None of them are going out there and saying we need to work across the aisle, we need to compromise, we need to grow government, we need to spend more, and we need more earmarks. Not one of them is running on their record.”
“In many ways the tea party has already won. Historically, movements like the tea party have won because one of the two major parties adopted their positions on the issues — and there is no question that the Republican Party is becoming more conservative.”
Viguerie ridiculed the recent spate of “R.I.P. tea party” stories that are pushed by the mainstream media and he thinks that the stories are simply motivated by the media’s disdain for the movement and desire to undermine its strength.
“The ‘death of the tea party’ stories are written by the tea party’s enemies. The mainstream media sees the tea party as their enemies. They like big government — they’re an arm of the big government lobbyists in Washington,” Viguerie commented.
Viguerie dismissed the notions that McDaniel winning the runoff will lead to a potential Democratic victory and doesn’t buy into the notion that strong conservatives are less likely to win general elections. Instead, he believes McDaniel’s chances are stronger because of his dedication to conservative values — not weaker.
“McDaniel has a better chance because he isn’t content free. Cochran is content free,” the veteran political activist said. “Whenever you draw a sharp contrast with the Democrats is when you win.”