Lessons From Matt Bevin’s Primary Victory

Jenny Beth Martin Jenny Beth Martin is co-founder and national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, the nation’s largest tea party organization, and is also chairman of the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund.
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In late 2013, then-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) declared that he wanted to “punch” his tea party opponents “in the nose.” Not to be bullied by Sen. McConnell’s threats, we at Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund decided to proceed with our plan to endorse a true conservative to replace him in the Senate.

The tea party movement experienced a win last week over the Washington establishment, and yes, even over Sen. McConnell, who, after winning his election last year, is now the Senate Majority leader. Matt Bevin, the defeated challenger to Mitch McConnell in the Senate primary last year, is now the Republican nominee for governor of Kentucky.

Bevin’s gubernatorial primary victory sends a clear message that the tea party movement is alive and kicking. His win also demonstrates that the establishment can try to “punch” us in the nose and “crush” us, but our opponents cannot crush our spirit and our determination, or our love of freedom and our country. Just one year after losing to Mitch McConnell in the primary, Matt Bevin is now looking ahead to November, when he has a good chance to become Kentucky’s next governor.

Nearly 15 months ago, I had the opportunity to meet Matt Bevin in his home for a candidate interview, which we conduct with each candidate before making an endorsement decision.

During the interview, Matt sat Indian-style, as I would have said as a child (or, “crisscross applesauce,” as my children would say), in a recliner with his shoes off, talking about his love for our county and his desire to see our country flourish in the years to come.

I marveled at how naturally he spoke and how at ease he was during the interview. He did not talk like a rehearsed politician. Instead, he spoke from his heart. Matt has nine children – yes, NINE! – and one of his daughters died a few years ago in a car accident. He spoke about how that experience had taught him to appreciate the gift of life.

A successful business owner, Bevin spoke knowledgeably about the economy and the challenges job creators face. In many ways, Bevin struck me as the perfect foil to Mitch McConnell.  Whereas Mitch McConnell has spent five full decades in Washington, D.C., Matt Bevin has spent his career in the private sector.

Matt shared some of the attacks he had experienced during his campaign because of his decision to run against Mitch McConnell. The nerve of someone attempting to defeat someone as entrenched in the Washington establishment as Mitch McConnell! I asked why in the world he thought it was a good idea to challenge the most powerful Republican in the U.S. Senate. He was earnest, and his love for our country was evident as we talked to him that day. He knew it was an uphill battle but still felt it was a worthy endeavor.

After the interview, I considered whether Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund would endorse him. There were a lot of risks to endorsing in the race to unseat one of Washington’s most powerful politicians. The chances of winning, I knew, were slim.

In my speech at CPAC in 2013, I had made a commitment that Tea Party Patriots and I would stand next to those who stood up for freedom. Here was a man who was running for U.S. Senate, a man who was standing for freedom and standing up to the establishment … and TPPCF had committed to focusing on the Senate.

True to my 2013 commitment that we would stand next to those standing up for freedom, TPPCF stood next to Matt Bevin in the form of an endorsement.

Within less than a month of making that endorsement, the Washington Post published a scathing hit piece about TPPCF and our allied 501(c)(4) organization Tea Party Patriots, as well as other organizations that had endorsed Bevin. The article was an attempt by the Washington establishment to call into question our priorities, our spending, and our ability to win. Other publications followed suit with their own articles attempting to discredit us, as well as our track record.

Matt Bevin ultimately lost his race last year against Mitch McConnell. The establishment immediately seized the opportunity to gloat, and to predict that this loss was tantamount to the death of the tea party.  Throughout 2014, there was no shortage of stories about our “waning” influence, and our diminished ability to win. We ignored these sentiments and pressed on, and with independent expenditures in a dozen crucial U.S. Senate and U.S. House races, helped Republicans recapture the U.S. Senate and solidify their hold on the U.S. House, the better to block what will most assuredly be a nutty final two years under Barack Obama’s administration.

But back to Kentucky. Not one to shy away from challenges, Matt Bevin defied those who had declared him “dead” last year, and announced his decision to jump into the 2015 GOP gubernatorial primary in Kentucky.

Wanting to stand by Matt Bevin again and to throw TPPCF’s support behind him, I called him to ask if we could endorse him. Endorsing in a gubernatorial race was a departure from our PAC’s policy to endorse only at the federal level, but I knew I wanted to endorse him in this race because of everything he had endured last year in his race to unseat McConnell.

We endorsed Bevin for governor and we made calls to more than 100,000 likely GOP primary voters to let them know of our endorsement and also why we had endorsed.

Last month, Matt Bevin won the primary. He is now the GOP nominee in the gubernatorial race. His victory reminds us that sometimes we won’t win on the first attempt, but that we can still triumph at the end of the day; that some challenges, no matter how daunting, are worth tackling; that when our opponents vilify us and threaten to punch us in the nose, the best approach is to maintain a resilient happy warrior attitude.

And, perhaps most significantly, his victory is a reminder that our guiding principles – limited government and fiscal discipline – are still very popular with voters and that candidates can, and do, win with our platform.

Congratulations again to Matt Bevin on a huge victory last month! Matt, we look forward to supporting you in the general election, and to hearing your victory speech on election night in November!