Sen. Mitch McConnell is done playing nice.
McConnell smacked down the tea party in an interview with Wall Street Journal opinion writer Peggy Noonan published Thursday evening.
The Tea Party is made up of people who are “angry and upset at government,” the Senate minority leader said, but they’ve been mislead by their leaders.
“They’ve been told the reason we can’t get to better outcomes than we’ve gotten is not because the Democrats control the Senate and the White House but because Republicans have been insufficiently feisty. Well, that’s just not true, and I think that the folks that I have difficulty with are the leaders of some of these groups who basically mislead them for profit,” he said.
When the tea party helped Sen. Rand Paul defeat a McConnell-approved candidate in a Kentucky Republican primary in 2010, McConnell made nice with the Senate’s tea party wing and looked to shore up his right flank, hiring a Paul-family friend, Jesse Benton, to run his re-election campaign. A tea partier challenged him from the right, but McConnell leads in polls by a 47 points.
Then the shutdown hit and all bets were off—McConnell quickly became a target when he brokered a deal with Democrats to reopen the federal government without taking down Obamacare.
And the chips fell swiftly.
The Senate Conservatives Fund, founded by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, slammed McConnell, endorsed his Republican primary challenger, and later began running ads against McConnell.
“So now Mitch McConnell is negotiating the Republican surrender,” the group’s executive director, Matt Hoskins, said. “He gave the Democrats a blank check back in July when he signaled he would do anything to avoid a shutdown and now Democrats can demand whatever they want. It’s humiliating.”
The Tea Party Nation withdrew their endorsement of the Senate minority leader in his primary race; the Senate Conservatives Fund endorsed McConnell’s tea party challenger. Western Representation PAC, a tea party-aligned group, slammed McConnell in a fundraising email titled “A Parliament of Traitors and Whores.”
Even Sarah Palin wrote a Facebook post pointing fingers at McConnell and his reelection race.
“We’re going to shake things up in 2014,” she wrote in part. “Soon we must focus on important House and Senate races. Let’s start with Kentucky.”
So, with little tea party support left to lose, McConnell is hitting back.
The Senate Conservatives Fund “has elected more Democrats than the Democratic Senatorial Committee over the last three cycles,” he told the Journal.
And that race in Alabama, where a birther, tea party activist lost to a conservative business-interest-aligned Republican?
That was a significant election, McConnell said, explaining that Republicans can’t govern if they can’t win elections. And to win, parties must “run candidates that don’t scare the general public, [and] convey the impression that we could actually be responsible for governing, you can trust us—we’re adults here, we’re grown-ups,” he said.
But McConnell isn’t worried about the primary challenge his tea party opponents are hoping to make more difficult.
“I don’t wanna be overly cocky, but I’m gonna be the Republican nominee next year,” he told Noonan.