Kentucky’s Sen. Mitch McConnell has seized on the IRS scandal as he heads into a 2014 reelection bid, a move that may help him shore up support on the right.
“There is a culture of intimidation throughout the administration. The IRS is just the most recent example,” McConnell said on Sunday’s Meet the Press. “What we’re talking about here is an attitude that the government knows best, the nanny state is here to tell us all what to do and if we start criticizing, you get targeted.”
Since news broke, the senator has been particularly combative, slamming the president in interviews and on his popular campaign team social networks, where the senator is already campaigning, despite not yet having a challenger (besides his own extremely low approval ratings). Democrats and Tea Partiers have offered ideas for challengers to unseat the candidate—a possible Tea Party-Democrat coalition was even floated—but no serious candidates have thrown their names in the ring.
McConnell’s strong response to the scandal has earned him support from the far right: last week, the senator was endorsed by one of the groups targeted in the IRS probe, TheTeaParty.net.
“With the new revelations that the IRS has been targeting Tea Party groups, we need Sen. McConnell more than ever,” said Niger Innis, the chief strategist of TheTeaParty.net.
McConnell has faced tough criticisms from Tea Partiers over spending in recent years and has sought to shore up the far-right’s support, stumping for the movement several times and hiring Jesse Benton, a Tea Party strategist, to run his reelection effort.
Sen. McConnell “has been standing up for his Tea Party Friends for over a year,” Benton told msnbc, declining to answer whether the combative statements were a rallying point designed for or particularly successful with the Tea Party.
Instead, Benton pointed to the senator’s leadership on the issue; indeed, McConnell was one of the first to demand an investigation on IRS profiling. (Though, as David Gregory pointed out on Meet the Press, early in his career, McConnell railed against abuses of the nonprofit exception—the same abuses the IRS was investigating when they improperly profiled groups.)
McConnell shows no sign of dropping the issue. He told Breitbart News the recent IRS revelations were “just the beginning of the story. This is no little thing. This is a big thing. The good news about it is they finally got caught,” he said. “This is just one example of an administration-wide effort to silence critics.”