Mitch McConnell ripped tea party-aligned forces like the Senate Conservatives Fund in a recent interview, saying they are “ruining” the Republican brand.
It is the Senate Minority Leader’s latest attempt to stand up to extremists in his party amidst a tough reelection bid that’s left him fielding attacks from the left and right, with Democrats criticizing his role in allowing a government shutdown and his Republican challenger criticizing his role in ending it.
In an interview published on Friday, McConnell chided the most far-right wing members of his party—without specifically naming the tea party —and blamed them for the government shutdown in October.
“There were people who were basically afraid of [conservatives], frankly,” McConnell told the Washington Examiner. “It’s time for people to stand up to this sort of thing.”
In standing up to the tea party, McConnell is walking a tight-rope: he doesn’t want to anger the far-right, grassroots Republicans who have long made up his base, but he does want to stop the tea-party led insurgency that has dragged Republican approval ratings down to historic lows, shut the government down for 16-days, and caused a GOP civil war.
“To have the kind of year we ought to have in 2014, we have to have electable candidates on November ballots in every state—people that don’t scare the general electorate and can actually win, because winners make policy and losers go home,” McConnell told the Washington Examiner. “We can’t just turn the other cheek and hope for the best. It didn’t work in 2010 and 2012 so we’re going to try something different in 2014.”
McConnell kept quiet for the first few years of the group’s existence once he saw its power in Kentucky (a McConnell-approved candidate lost to tea party darling Sen. Rand Paul in a race to be Kentucky’s junior senator), courting tea party forces and even bringing Paul’s 2010 campaign manager to run his 2014 bid.
His battle with the tea party coincides with his 2014 bid, where he’s facing challenges on both sides—from a formidable Democrat, current Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan-Grimes, and a tea party challenger, Matt Bevin. McConnell trumps Bevin in polls, but he and Grimes are neck and neck.
It’s perhaps why McConnell’s gloves came off when he discussed the Senate Conservatives Fund, a group that aims to boot the Senate’s seasoned Republicans, including McConnell, in favor of farther right conservatives like his challenger from the right, Bevin.
“The Senate Conservatives Fund is giving conservatism a bad name. They’re participating in ruining the [Republican] brand,” McConnell said. “What they do is mislead their donors into believing the reason that we can’t get as good an outcome as we’d like to get is not because of a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president, but because Republicans are insufficiently committed to the cause — which is utter nonsense.”