The Republican establishment in Mississippi is panicked and I don’t mean by any perceived threats from the incoming Trump Administration. No it’s more local, more personal, and more frightening than that. Rumors are starting to grow that State Senator Chris McDaniel might just throw his hat into the ring against Senator Roger Wicker in the 2018 midterms and that prospect fills the powers-that-be with dread.
The establishment is still stung by McDaniel’s incredible Trump-like surge to near-victory in 2014, and they don’t relish the thought of another battle with Mississippi’s Mr. Conservative, so state leaders are already at work constructing a political firewall to insult their guy from this new, strong conservative insurgency.
How do we know this? Because the establishment leadership in the state, a mere day after the election, rushed to congratulate Wicker, as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), for keeping the US Senate in Republican hands. The Clarion Ledger, Y’all Politics, and nearly every media outlet in the state were suddenly filled with praise for Wicker.
And his colleagues in Mississippi laid it on thick too. Wicker is, in their words, the “savior of the Senate,” the “belle of the ball,” the “tip of the spear,” the man who deserves “much applause” for the “tremendous job” he did. Congressman Greg Harper said he deserved a “parade,” while the Governor declared that he should be the Senate’s majority leader.
This new media effort to boost Wicker in the eyes of the state’s more conservative voters is about the future, two years into the future to be exact. The 2018 mid-term elections, at least in Mississippi, began on Wednesday, November 9.
So naturally the establishment, sensing a grave threat to its existence, is seeking to protect the state’s other RINO Senator as aggressively as they did Thad Cochran in 2014. But like so much that we see from the establishment, this latest propaganda fest is nothing more than a political ruse.
The potential problem they sense is that Wicker, like Thad Cochran, has less-than-stellar conservative bona fides. Like Cochran, he’s far more liberal than many realize. Without going into any details of his specific votes, Wicker’s scorecards are enough to show that he’s far from a true conservative. His Heritage Foundation grade is just 54, while his Conservative Review rating is a paltry 28, a failing score by the Mark Levin-led, liberty-centered group.
Comparing him to conservative Senate lions Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul, there is no comparison. Cruz rates 96 and 97 respectively, while Paul scores 92 and 86, and Lee tops out at 100 percent with both organizations. So like Cochran, Wicker’s record does not reflect the strong conservative values of Mississippi.
However, there is a problem with this case, and that is the fact that Wicker is far weaker than Cochran. At least Cochran had great name recognition, an assortment of buildings named after him, his record on Katrina, his chairmanship of the appropriations committee, and decades of seniority. Those things were used to cover for his weak voting record and his lack of fight for conservative principles.
Like Cochran, Wicker has led no fights against Obama, nor has he proposed any major conservative reform plans, to go along with his equally bad voting record. But without the strengths to boost his image and pull him across the finish line, he is much more vulnerable. So that is the real reason for this new media offensive.
But the oft-repeated “stellar” effort by Wicker as chairman of the NRSC, on behalf of US Senate candidates nationwide, rings as hollow as does his “conservative” voting record.
Like the presidential race, the Democrats, we were told, would make major congressional gains in 2016, with political prognosticators predicting that along with a new Clinton White House, Democrats might possibly win the House but would most certainly gain up to four Senate seats and at least tie Republicans, thereby allowing new Vice President Tim Kaine to use his constitutional authority to break it and give Democrats nominal control. And if Clinton’s coattails were strong enough, they might even squeak out a 51-49 majority.
Republicans, though, breathed a major sigh of relief on election night when they learned that Democrats would only pick up two seats, leaving the GOP in control of the chamber.
So for this we are supposed to praise Roger Wicker? What exactly did he do? To be truthful, we know the polls everyone was pushing, including Fox News, was dead wrong about the election, thus proving that the Republicans were not in danger of losing anything.
But to better understand what happened in the Senate campaigns, we need to look more closely at the results: Republicans did lose the two seats but should have lost only one, and should have picked up one additional seat to replace the loss, if they had more competent leadership.
The lost seats were Illinois and New Hampshire. For Mark Kirk in Illinois, he was probably destined to lose either way in such a blue state, yet Wicker’s NRSC wasted funds on him anyway, and he ended up getting crushed with just 40 percent of the vote. Not a good choice and certainly a waste of resources.
For Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, she seemed not to get along with the NRSC, even making a fuss about a heroine ad that ran against her opponent. She was not a strong candidate, even as an incumbent Senator, and lost a squeaker by a little more than 1,000 votes.
But the real reason Kirk and Ayotte lost was that both were very hostile to Donald Trump and ultimately paid the political price for it in this anti-establishment, insurgent year. They misread the mood of the electorate and were sent packing.
The seat that the GOP could have been picked up was Colorado, where a strong black conservative candidate, Darryl Glenn, lost his bid by a close margin, 52 to 48 over the sitting Senator. But while Wicker wasted funds on a loser like Kirk, the NRSC did not back Glenn and seemed to cut him loose and let him fend for himself. That was a stupid and shameful move on Wicker’s part.
So if not the result of the work of the NRSC, what were the real reasons Republicans held the Senate in 2016?
First, Democrats had a terrible candidate at the top of the ticket in Hillary Clinton, who had no coattails for anyone, including herself. Many of their Senate candidates were nothing to brag about either. In two other hotly contested seats that Democrats firmly believed would be theirs, they dug up two old has-beens – Evan Bayh in Indiana and Russ Feingold in Wisconsin. And both of them were shellacked in states that went for Trump.
And with Clinton heading the ticket, Democrats simply did not turn out to vote across the country as they did for Obama. Hillary’s vote total will probably be close to five million fewer than Barack drew four years ago. And minority turnout was substantially lower.
But the main reason was Donald Trump’s coattails as much as anything that kept the margin close and kept the chamber in Republican hands.
Even Paul Ryan admitted as much during his post-election press conference. You would think the Speaker of the House would credit the NRSC and Roger Wicker for their work in holding the majority in the Senate, but he did not. Of the Upper Chamber Ryan said this: “I want to congratulate Mitch McConnell and our Republican colleagues in the Senate,” he said, before extending a hardy congratulation to his Wisconsin colleague, Senator Ron Johnson.
He then congratulated the NRCC team on a “phenomenal job” in holding the House. But ultimate responsibility for the majorities in both Houses he laid at the feet of the President-Elect. “Donald Trump provided the kind of coattails that got a lot of people over the finish line so that we can maintain our strong House and Senate majorities.” No mention of Mr. Wicker.
So, if Paul Ryan thought so little of Wicker’s effort to leave him out of his post-election press conference remarks, why should we put any stock in Mississippi’s establishment leaders? We shouldn’t, because this new media effort is nothing more than an establishment trick to insulate Wicker from conservative challenges in the future and save establishment control over the state and its resources. Let the second battle of Mississippi begin.