It's Tempting, But Unwise, to Draw Too Many Lessons From Cochran's Win in Mississippi

In one corner, we have Republicans saying “Hey, Thad Cochran found a way to appeal to the black vote. That’s why he won. The rest of the GOP should do the same!”


In the other corner, we have Republicans saying “Democrats shouldn’t decide Republican primaries. Cochran’s moves were dirty!”

Both sides are right, and wrong.

Regarding Cochran’s alleged appeal to black voters, he or his supporters resorted to some underhanded stuff. This mailer was being passed around Mississippi in the final days leading up to the runoff. It’s a smear of the type that the NAACP regularly launches against Republicans.



It’s not clear who distributed this. That’s part of the beauty of it. It came and went and did its job, without leaving any fingerprints.

But any Republican who believes appeals like this will help the party stick to its principles and elect real conservatives is deluding themselves. Any Republican who believes that tactics like this will help appeal to black voters over the long haul are deluding themselves. It won’t. This mailer is a scorched-earth tactic and a smear. The lies begin in the headline. The Tea Party did not intend to “prevent blacks from voting.” That mailer helped a big government incumbent retain his office, on a big government theme, by turning out voters who support big government, by lying about the Tea Party. That ought to bother more self-described Republicans than it apparently does.


On the other hand, Mississippi’s law allows for open primaries. Open primaries are, by and large, destructive for the GOP and conservatives. But you can’t change the rules in the middle of an election. Cochran’s campaign staff were savvy enough to figure out that they could buck the trend of diminishing votes in a runoff by expanding the universe of voters available to them. Perhaps if McDaniel’s staff were more experienced, they would have seen this threat and accounted for it. The lack of savvy among Tea Party candidates and staff ought to bother more Tea Partiers than it apparently does.

Clearly, McDaniel’s staff didn’t see the full battle map, and that’s on them. Cochran’s tactics — smart and smarmy at the same time — helped him survive. His personal connections to old GOP hands like Haley Barbour helped him survive. He survived by sacrificing principles, supposing he had any to begin with. There isn’t a lot to cheer in that, and nothing to emulate other than some obvious things — know the potential and practical universe of voters available to you and your opponent. Account for the personal connections that create long-term incumbency. Personal loyalties and relationships can account for an awful lot in politics, where egos are bigger than Hollywood and mutual back-scratching is a world-class sport. Deal with the rules as they stand. Watch your back. Politics is and will always be war by other means.


There is no whining in war. If you say you’re waging war, don’t pout and be a quitter because you lost a race. Wash off the blood and dust and come back fighting again — after you’ve learned a thing or two.

(For complete 2014 midterm coverage, get your campaign fix on The Grid.)


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