Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is fighting back against the Senate Conservatives Fund after the tea party organization targeted him by supporting a challenger in next year’s primary.
The wealthy fund, a political action committee founded by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, is turning the five-term Kentucky senator’s race into a bitter GOP confrontation between the tea party wing and other Republicans, NPR reports.
McConnell is one of seven GOP Senate incumbents facing primary challenges from the tea party, which according to The Center for Responsive Politics, has invested more than $100,000 in its primary challenger, businessman Matt Bevin, and this week sponsored an online effort to come up with another $400,000 for his campaign.
The GOP family feud between McConnell and DeMint, now the president of the conservative Heritage Foundation, dates back to 2006 according to Jonathan Strong of the conservative National Review, but has heated up in recent weeks. And it’s expected to continue long after the upcoming election when the Republican candidate will face the Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
“Their feud has been one of the most enduring, and important, clashes within the ranks of the Republican Party,” Strong wrote in the Review this week. “Team McConnell thinks DeMint is a self-destructive showboat whose tactics, such as the government shutdown, can lead only to disaster.
“Team DeMint thinks McConnell is a petty, vindictive tyrant who pushes a mushy agenda behind the scenes. The battle raging in Kentucky is the culmination of seven years of on-and-off conflict.”
McConnell recently slammed the SCF as “giving conservatism a bad name” and “ruining the Republican brand.”He also told the Washington Examiner that SCF “misleads donors” into believing that certain Republicans are “insufficiently committed to the cause, which is utter nonsense.”
Last week, McConnell enraged tea party supporters after reports emerged that he had called them “a bunch of bullies” whom he threatened to “punch on the nose.”
According to NPR, McConnell has recently taken measures to push back against the SCF, including reportedly giving a dressing down to a Nebraska Senate candidate for befriending the fund and being behind a move by the national committee to get Republicans elected to the Senate to refuse to deal with an advertising firm with ties to the fund.
Former McConnell staffer Josh Holmes, who’s now with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, recently inferred to the The Hill that the ad ban was at McConnell’s behest.
“SCF has been wandering around the country destroying the Republican Party like a drunk who tears up every bar they walk into,” said Holmes. “The difference this cycle is that they strolled into Mitch McConnell’s bar and he doesn’t throw you out, he locks the door.”
Republican strategist John Feehery, who calls the fund a disruptive “nuisance”, says that the result of the primary between McConnell and Bevin could reverberate throughout the entire GOP.
“This is a big fight,” Feehery said. “McConnell’s got to make the case that this primary is a real waste of money, and that he’s a real conservative. But [the SCF] has been able to tap into the anger of a lot of rank-and-file conservatives, and get them to give up their money.”
McConnell believes that the confrontational stance of the SCF, and groups likes it, are making it impossible for conservatives to govern. But Sheila Krumholtz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which compiles information on money in politics, warns that they are a force to be reckoned with and are here to stay for the long term.
“They (the SCF) are one of the new standard-bearers for the tea party, and they represent the new ‘take no prisoners’ approach,” says Krumholtz, adding that the fund acts as an “earmarking” organization, collecting contributions and passing them along to specific candidates. “They are a major player in Washington and Congress. Raising more than $15 million last cycle? That’s serious money.”
The SCF maintains on its website that it does not support incumbent Senators, but instead looks for new leaders who “have the courage to fight for the timeless conservative principles of limited government, strong national defense, and traditional family values.”
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By Drew MacKenzie