Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who left last week’s CPAC audience members scratching their heads by…well, by being there at all, and by sheepishly brandishing a rifle on the stage, didn’t take long to return to form after handing the weapon over to retiring Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) By Saturday, he was back in front of the mainstream media, boasting that the GOP establishment would mop the floor with Tea Party candidates in the 2014 midterm elections.
“I think we are going to crush them everywhere,” McConnell said in a weekend interview with The New York Times. “I don’t think they are going to have a single nominee [win a primary] anywhere in the country.”
Of course, McConnell is himself hoping the midterms will come soon enough to ward off an upstart Tea Party challenge to his own Senate seat.
Matt Bevin, who’s challenging McConnell from the conservative right in the Kentucky Senate race, didn’t let McConnell’s gun gaffe at CPAC go unnoticed. He posted a photo of McConnell with the rifle to his Facebook page – alongside an infamously awful shot of failed Democratic Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, who in 1988 made a laughable attempt at earning some National defense credibility by allowing himself to be photographed grinning like an idiot atop an M1 Abrams tank.
George H.W. Bush soundly defeated Dukakis in the Presidential election that year. McConnell leads Bevin rather comfortably in the polls this year, so far. But just ask Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) about the infallibility of pre-election polls.
What’s interesting is that the American Conservative Union (ACU), the organization that sponsors CPAC, may have been smarter than attendees and observers first believed in inviting McConnell to the conservative conference. According to a Friday report in National Journal, the gun stunt wasn’t even McConnell’s idea – it was the ACU’s. And, while making a gift of a gun is a CPAC tradition, the circumstances leading to McConnell’s awkward moment this year seemed almost pre-ordained to maximize McConnell’s discomfort onstage.
“Thanks, ACU!” Bevin must be saying.
If junior Kentucky Senator and fellow Republican Rand Paul – unquestionably the star of this year’s CPAC – is going to continue tapping into whatever support network McConnell has access to by endorsing McConnell in his reelection bid, he has to be praying for McConnell to avoid any more of these public gaffes. They aren’t just hurting McConnell’s conservative credibility anymore – they’re hurting the conservative credibility of everyone McConnell touches. And, as his NYT comments illustrate, McConnell probably likes it that way.
And p.s. – For all you eagle-eyed gun fans perpetuating last week’s rifle-versus-musket debate: yes, it was a rifle.