Thad Cochran’s triumph over Chris McDaniel in Tuesday’s run-off election in Mississippi was perhaps the most demoralizing of all the primary losses of conservative upstarts versus establishment incumbents this election cycle — both in the closeness of the race and the legal but dubious way in which it was determined by Democrats.
Unfortunately, I fear that the lessons of Cochran’s victory are far more consequential than those of Dave Brat’s remarkable win over now ex-Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia.
The overarching lessons that conservatives should take away from what happened in Mississippi are threefold:
- Never ever underestimate the power of the GOP establishment, and the number of chits that a politician who has held a seat for 36 years can call in. During such time, Cochran accumulated an infinite amount of political capital that he cashed in on Tuesday, earned by raising millions of dollars and campaigning for colleagues over the years, while loading up bill after bill with pork.
- The first rule of politics is “win.” Those who comprise the establishment will do everything legally possible to retain power. Such politicians will take advantage of voting rules, parliamentary procedures and any other loopholes they can to gain an edge. In elections, when it comes to below-the-belt tactics, these folks will use people one or two or three degrees removed from them do their bidding so as to maintain plausible deniability and a veneer of dignity. This would explain, for example, the horrifically offensive, anonymously produced campaign literature that reportedly went out in the heavily black, heavily Democratic voting precincts that carried Thad Cochran to victory. For those who are ideologically pure, who do not have a similar party machine and who disavow such unsavory tactics to win, electoral success is made that much harder. They will keep their souls, and others will win elections, to the detriment of the country.