A few weeks ago, Mississippi Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel came up with a euphemism for the thousands of voters who were suddenly supporting his opponent in that state’s Republican primary: “Liberal Democrats,” he called them.
Liberal Democrats were infiltrating and perverting a Republican contest, he warned bitterly. His campaign team would dispatch monitors to voting stations, on full alert for infiltration by liberal Democrats.
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There is, of course, a more relevant and more accurate way to describe the Mississippians who provoked McDaniel’s outrage, and who in the end denied him the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate race later this year: “Black voters.”
McDaniel, though, consistently refused to acknowledge the racial reality of what was happening, right to the end. In his angry non-concession speech Tuesday night, he kept right on ranting from the podium about liberal Democrats.
Up against reality
But of course, how could he acknowledge reality? To do so would also mean acknowledging that the Tea Party is regarded by most black voters, (and most other minority voters, and most women) as what it mostly is: a bunch of cranky old white conservatives who think their country is being stolen and who want things the way they used to be.
'Compared with McDaniel, the near-octogenarian Republican incumbent, Thad Cochran, looked pretty good to black voters.' - Neil Macdonald
So deeply do Mississippi’s black voters distrust the Tea Party that they turned out by the thousands, urged on by their pastors and community leaders, to support a 76-year-old white Republican named Thad Cochran.
This, in a state where almost all blacks usually vote Democrat, and where 99 per cent voted for Barack Obama.
(Mississippi holds “open” primaries, in which anyone can cast a ballot who has not already voted in the other party’s primary).
McDaniel himself clearly had a lot to do with his own defeat. He’s a stout defender of “neo-Confederate” groups, and a big fan of the Stars and Bars, a flag black voters understandably don’t accept as a “symbol of our heritage.”
He’s also made time to alienate Latinos, the largest-growing demographic in America, by opposing any reform that smacks of “amnesty” for the 11 million illegal immigrants who provide Americans with a convenient pool of cheap labour, and by referring to Hispanic women as “mamacitas,” a term white guys just don’t get to use.
Oh, and he’ll also refuse to pay taxes if the government ever negotiates reparations for slavery.
His campaign’s decision to post monitors on the lookout for “liberal Democrats” sounded enough like voter suppression that it reportedly disquieted the Justice Department in Washington. And the NAACP was concerned enough to send its own monitors to Mississippi.
Wonderful optics, especially in a state still synonymous with hoods and burning churches in the minds of many Americans.
Compared with McDaniel, the near-octogenarian Republican incumbent, Thad Cochran, looked pretty good to black voters.
Cochran is a courtly fellow known for his gentle manners. He had the near total support of the national Republican establishment, which would rather not become a far-right, monochromatic rump party.
Unlike former senator Jim DeMint, who now runs a foundation that bankrolls people like McDaniel, the Republican leadership would rather take back power in Washington by campaigning moderately than sit in opposition forever, resentfully conserving its ideological purity.
Republican Party on defensive
So far this year, the establishment has defended the party fortress. Pragmatic, ideologically impure Republicans, with the backing of big business and moderate donors, have thwarted Tea Party-funded challengers across the country.
Far-right groups like the Heritage Foundation, Tea Party Patriots and the Club for Growth have very little to show for the tens of millions they distributed.
Endorsements from Sarah Palin and her cohort didn’t help much, either.
The stunning exception was House leader Eric Cantor, a hard-core right-wing Virginian who was knocked off by an even more extreme right-wing Virginian.
Cantor’s sin? Urging the party to pass some sort of immigration reform.
The silly man thought it would be a good idea to attract Latino voters, many of whom are natural religious conservatives, and, if the Republicans were ever to support immigration reform, a vast new potential constituency for the party.
Democrats, of course, are enjoying the Tea Party’s misfortunes. But they shouldn’t be.
Politically strategic Democrats understand that rape-denying, no-abortion-under-any-circumstances, anti-immigration reform, Confederate-flag-waving, gun-toting, government-shutdown-promoting Tea Party supporters are their objective allies.
Some canny Democratic politicians have actually spent campaign money to promote Tea Party candidates who have challenged moderate Republican incumbents.
Of course they would. The more extreme your opponent, the better (except in Texas, of course).
In that sense, the thousands of black Mississippians who ultimately defeated McDaniel were acting directly against the interests of “liberal Democrats.”
They in fact guaranteed that at least one Senate seat will remain Republican in the midterm elections this year.
Even Fox News understood that: “A Bad Night for Democrats” was its headline after the Mississippi votes were counted.
In his angry election night remarks, though, McDaniel promised that hard-right conservatives will march on; there will be no surrender to compromising moderates.
Hillary Clinton, watching TV somewhere, no doubt took some comfort from that.