So was Governor Bryant being “opportunistic” when he flew to Washington to talk to Mitch McConnell about whether he should appoint himself to fill the remainder of Cochran’s final term?
State Senator Chris McDaniel’s announcement on Wednesday that he would remove his name from consideration for a Republican primary challenge to US Senator Roger Wicker in June, opting instead to run for an open seat to replace the retiring Thad Cochran in November, appeared to have caught GOP gatekeepers flat-footed.
Governor Phil Bryant’s reaction was not in keeping with the political character he normally presents to Mississippians. His terse statement calling McDaniel’s decision “opportunistic” was followed Thursday by an obviously agitated and defensive tweet and then again in a preachy interview with reporters at the state Capitol.
Bryant insisted on scolding McDaniel publicly, suggesting the calls to his office from conservatives asking he appoint McDaniel to serve for the remainder of Cochran’s term has the governor feeling dejected. After all, Bryant gladly accepted the moniker of “the first TEA Party Governor” years ago.
But that was before 2014 and Bryant choosing to side with political power brokers to protect Cochran in a race against McDaniel. Cochran held the seat, but only after the Mississippi Supreme Court quashed any hope of rexamining ballots. On April 1, only three and half years into the term, Cochran will relinquish the senate office due to his deteriorating health.
But none of this explains why Bryant has taken it upon himself to lecture McDaniel on politics.
The governors peevishness over McDaniel switching races may be more about Governor Bryant’s recent politically “opportunistic” conduct than with Chris McDaniel. McDaniel told reporters he made the move suddenly Wednesday because he became worried by repeated reports that US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was actively wooing Gov. Bryant to appoint himself or someone who could be depended upon to support the political establishment in Washington and Mississippi.
Governor Bryant defensively shot back on Twitter in response to McDaniel’s comment.
“Anyone who thinks anyone in Washington will influence who I appoint to complete Sen. Cochran’s term is out of touch with reality,” Governor Bryant said in the tweet.
Anyone who thinks anyone in Washington will influence who I appoint to complete Sen. Cochran's term is out of touch with reality.
— Phil Bryant (@PhilBryantMS) March 15, 2018
Bryant then took his response to the suggestion of McConnell’s involvement a step further in an interview with reporters at the state Capitol. The Clarion Ledger article of the interview was published online less than an hour after the governor’s tweet.
“That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard of,” Bryant protested. “The decision (on a Senate appointment) will be mine and mine alone, with no one from the outside, no one from the swamp or the outside world or Mars or Jupiter is going to come here and try to tell me (what to do) … (McDaniel) knows better than that.”
Whether discussions with McConnell over the Cochran seat is the silliest charge the governor has ever heard or not, his response to reporters that McConnell hasn’t attempted to influence the governor’s decision is definitely one of silliest things the governor has ever uttered. Because it’s flatly false.
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In February multiple media outlets, including the Clarion Ledger, reported of Governor Bryant’s private dinner meeting with Mitch McConnell in Washington, specifically in the context of who might get the appointment to finish Cochran’s term. What’s worse, Bryant’s meeting with McConnell occurred over a month before Cochran announced his retirement, and at a time when Bryant was telling reporters that speculation over Cochran’s replacement was “insensitive, irresponsible and unfair.”
“Mississippi is stronger because of Sen. Cochran’s service, and I look forward to it continuing,” Bryant said in an emailed statement to The Washington Post, who first broke the story of the governor’s dinner meeting with McConnell.
Multiple media outlets picked up news of the McConnell/Bryant meeting. New York Magazine reporter Margaret Hartmann published a follow up to the Washington Post report detailing the McConnell/Bryant dinner as part of a “scheme” McConnell was “plotting to hold a seat that hasn’t even opened up yet.”
From the article:
Cochran aides say there are no imminent plans to announce his retirement, but nevertheless, McConnell made a pitch this week to the man he’d like to see in the seat. According to the Washington Post, McConnell asked Mississippi governor Phil Bryant to consider appointing himself to the seat.
McConnell wooed Bryant by dining with him before the State of the Union this week, and taking him to the event as his guest.
Bryant’s spokesman Clay Chandler refused to address what the subject of the meeting with McConnell was about at the time, telling the media the two men discussed a “range of issues important to Mississippi and America.”
“Those conversations will remain private,” Chandler was quoted as saying.
So was Governor Bryant being “insensitive, irresponsible and unfair“ when he flew to Washington to talk to Mitch McConnell about whether he should appoint himself to fill the remainder of Cochran’s final term? Was Bryant being “opportunistic”?
Ultimately, the governor rejected the idea of appointing himself. That’s the good move to make and he realized it. Mississippi voters, by-and-large, would reject such blatant abuse of power as morally repugnant.
But just as repugnant are the childish antics and hurried contradictions of a grown man with a bruised ego—the Governor of Mississippi, no-less—lecturing McDaniel on the “opportunistic” appearance of his decision to switch races, especially since doing so could avoid another nasty Republican Primary for US Senate and allows candidates to keep more resources in reserve for the final push of a general election.
The governor could help keep that from happening by his actions on the Senate appointment. While he’s at it he could also put in a word to his dinner partner in DC, Mitch McConnell, and tell him to keep his political attack money out of Mississippi. You know, since Bryant says “no one from the outside world” like the Majority Leader is going to come here and tell him what to do.
Of course we now know Mitch McConnell doesn’t have to come here to tell Governor Bryant what to do. The governors actions in early February show all McConnell has to do is snap his fingers and Bryant will go to him.