Thursday, May 22, 2014

McConnell, GOP push to unify party, but Bevin makes clear he and his backers are still smarting

Many tea party types around the nation embraced Sen. Mitch McConnell after the primary, "but one key person was still holding out: Matt Bevin," writes Manu Raju of Politico, in a story headlined "GOP's task: Crush tea party, then court it."

And Raju has a quote from Bevin suggesting that an endorsement won't come anytime soon: “You can’t punch people in the face, punch people in the face, punch people in the face, and ask them to have tea and crumpets with you and think it’s all good. Life doesn’t work that way.” In the interview, Bevin didn't go beyond his election-night stand, which was that he wouldn't endorse Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Matt Bevin holds newborn Mary Halston Brandon at the Fountain
 Run BBQ Festival Saturday, May 17. (Photo from Getty Images)
Bevin told Politico that McConnell has a “tremendous challenge before him” to win support of many Bevin voters, and is going to “have a hard time” winning. He said and there is little he can do to move his supporters into the GOP tent because he’s “not leading a bunch of mindless sheep. Some will forget [about attacks by McConnell and his allies]. Some will forget they are the enemy. But some will not. This race is so close, that there is no real margin for error there. There really isn’t.”

McConnell told Politico that he was “not concerned” about uniting the party, and noted the support he has already received from national tea party activists. “We’ve been down this path before,” he told Raju. “We’re going to be able to put the party together.”

Raju notes that traditional Republicans "have beat back tea party forces in a spate of bitter primaries across the country. Now their chances of winning the Senate could hinge on winning the tea party back." But he says they have "a ways to go to ensure conservative activists don’t sit out the fall elections or — even worse — pull the lever for the Democrat as a protest vote. If enough sit out of neck-and-neck races — in states like Kentucky, Georgia and North Carolina — it could be enough to tilt the outcome of a close affair."

Sens. Paul and McConnell (Washington Post photo)
In Kentucky, the public post-election push for party unity begins Friday, as McConnell campaigns with Sen. Rand Paul and has his "first meeting with the local media since his primary victory," Raju writes. "McConnell and Paul also are expected to speak at the Kentucky Republican Party’s Lincoln Day Dinner in early June in Louisville. And in an interview, Paul said he’s planning to stump for McConnell in late July in Northern Kentucky, an area of the state with pockets of rabidly conservative voters who aren’t enamored with the 29-year Senate veteran."

Paul told Politico that “It just takes time” to bring the defeated into the tent: “I think people are mad at first if you work real hard for your candidate and you lose . . . but over time, you have to weigh getting someone who supports President Obama’s policies vs. getting someone who supports Republican ideas.”

Republican leaders "are reaching out to local activists who are skeptical of the GOP establishment and hoping time will heal the wounds with their primary adversaries after a scorched-earth campaign," Raju reports. "They’re also employing the time-honored tactic of shame."

“Anybody who says they will vote for a Democrat as a result of losing the Republican primary is not a Republican, and they are not a conservative,” Assistant Republican Leader John Cornynof Texas, told Politico. “I think, obviously, party unity is important after primaries, but our tradition has not been a party of sore losers.”

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