Senator Thad Cochran (L) campaigns in the Gulf Coast city of Pass Christian, Mississippi, June 19, 2014.
Lee Celano/Reuters

The GOP establishment’s victory may be the tea party’s motivation

Updated

Hardball with Chris Matthews, 6/26/14, 8:14 PM ET

Kornacki on what’s now driving the tea party

Steve Kornacki explains why the Republican establishment’s win in Mississippi with Sen. Thad Cochran should be a warning sign: because if history is any indicator, the tea party now has more fuel for their fire.
Let me finish tonight with the cries of betrayal we’re hearing from the tea party right after that surprise victory the GOP establishment pulled off in Mississippi this week.

In a way, this is nothing new. The tea party movement sprouted up five years ago, and it’s always been a two-front war.

The first front you know all about: it’s the right’s reaction to the election of Barack Obama as president.

But the second front is more complicated. It has to do with how Obama came to be president in the first place, what the conditions were in the country in 2007 and 2008 that made his candidacy take flight.

What you had back then was a miserably unpopular Republican president–George W. Bush–and so when Obama came to power, the right blamed Bush. They blamed him for growing government instead of shrinking it. Remember “compassionate conservatism”? Bush gave conservatism a bad name. That’s what they told themselves. And because he gave it a bad name, the country turned on Republicans and turned to Barack Obama.

So that’s been the second front in the war the tea party has been waging. It’s not just against Barack Obama. It’s also against the Republicans who helped Bush last decade, the ones who betrayed real conservatism and hastened the rise of Obama… the fake conservatives, the ones who will sacrifice conservative principles for political expediency, the people Ted Cruz calls “squishes,” the Republican establishment–that’s who and what the tea party has been fighting just as hard as it’s been fighting Obama.

And that’s why what the Republican establishment pulled off this week in Mississippi may end up being a nightmare for them.

Sure, Thad Cochran beat Chris McDaniel. But look at the cost. Look at the outrage, listen to the vows of retaliation this has kicked up on the tea party right. These people are furious, and they’re not about to forget.

Cochran vs. McDaniel is something they’ll be talking about for a long time. To the tea party right, this is the ultimate betrayal–the idea that the establishment is so scared of the tea party, so intent on knocking them down, that they’d rather team up with Democrats than let them win. Really, it’s the ultimate confirmation to the right of everything they’ve said and thought and suspected about the Republican establishment.

“Sure, Thad Cochran beat Chris McDaniel. But look at the cost. Look at the outrage, listen to the vows of retaliation this has kicked up on the tea party right. These people are furious, and they’re not about to forget.”
Steve Kornacki
I remember the story of the 1952 Republican Convention. It was the establishment’s candidate, Dwight Eisenhower, against the conservative hero, Robert Taft. And the conservatives showed up at the conventions with the votes to win–or so they thought because the establishment forces knew a lot of tricks, they got a bunch of Taft delegates disqualified, and it was just enough to muscle Eisenhower to victory.

But the right didn’t forget the betrayal of ‘52. It became their rallying cry–proof of exactly what they were up against, motivation to never let it happen again. It was grist for a movement that grew stronger and craftier over the next decade until it finally got its revenge in 1964. That’s when the Republican establishment had to look on in horror as the right nominated Barry Goldwater for president.

It’s a story the Republican establishment might want to keep in mind right now. Yes, they found a way to get Thad Cochran through the Mississippi primary. But did they just give the tea party something even more valuable?

Mississippi

The GOP establishment's victory may be the tea party's motivation

Updated