While Chris McDaniel and his Tea Party supporters were hammering incumbent Republican Sen. Thad Cochran for his support of earmarks and votes raising the debt limit, Cochran didn’t run from the debate.
In the final days of the campaign, Cochran’s allies at the The U.S. Chamber of Commerce ran an ad “wall-to-wall in Mississippi” featuring NFL legend Brett Favre which was void of any conservative pitches.
Favre’s sole (if grammatically suspect) policy argument was: “Whether it’s getting critical funding for our schools, Thad Cochran always delivers, just like he did during Katrina.”
McDaniel whined in his non-concession speech that “there is something a bit unusual about a Republican primary that’s decided by liberal Democrats.”
True enough. One Cochran ally told Politico that “somewhere between 25- and 35,000 crossover votes made the difference here” in a race with about a 6,400 margin of victory. (African-American votes played a huge role, making a mockery of the Republican attempt to suppress their votes with a Voter ID law.)
But let’s not forget that Cochran still found about 160,000 Republican voters who were thankful for his aggressive earmarking — $2.6 billion from 2008 to 2010 alone — funding local schools, infrastructure, research and emergency relief.
Most importantly, Cochran’s pro-spending message was able to expand the electorate, attract those 30,000 crossover votes and forge an unstoppable bipartisan coalition. McDaniel’s extreme anti-spending message — rejecting debt limit increases to pay for spending that’s already been approved — had nowhere to go beyond the Tea Party’s small room.
Moreover, McDaniel was repeatedly forced into contradictions when faced with tough questions regarding what the impact of his agenda would mean to Mississippi.
As the Associated Press reported last week, in one breath McDaniel said “we have to put aside some of our personal interests if we’re going to save this republic” yet “I’m going to fight for the shipyards and our military” institutions in Mississippi, which rely on federal dollars. He tried to claim that even though he believed a federal role in education is “unconstitutional” it didn’t mean the state would forgo the $800 million of federal funds that covers a quarter of Mississippi’s education budget. And he dodged queries about farm subsidies.
It’s easy to rail about spending in the abstract, and play upon cynicism that your tax dollars are being wasted.
But when anti-spending demagoguery goes up against a concerted effort to highlight how that spending impacts the real world, ideological extremism is laid bare, simplistic arguments turn incoherent, and electoral bases prove to be islands.
Mississippi, one of the most conservative states in the nation, has shown us why the right-wing Tea Party is incapable of winning. Because at the end of the day, most people want their government to do the things that they pay it to do.