For his pivotal role in ending the government shutdown and at least temporarily avoiding the government’s default on its loans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has earned the wrath of the most conservative wing of his own Republican Party.
However, while he may have lost some votes from tea party Republicans, McConnell did the right thing by working with Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nevada, to broker a compromise that helped reopen the government, and we even support him for helping to secure $2.9 billion in additional funding for a troubled lock and dam project on the Ohio River.
Our reasoning is simple: Allowing the federal government to default on its loan obligations or killing a project that is critical to transporting goods on the Ohio River had the potential of devastating the economy of this region.
Yet the ink was hardly dry on the bipartisan bill that reopened the government and continued funding for the lock sand dam project before the Senate Conservatives Fund endorsed Matt Bevin, a little-known tea party conservative who is challenging McConnell for the GOP’s nomination in next May’s Republican primary. McConnell is seeking a sixth six-year term.
The Senate Conservatives Fund was established by former Republican U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint who is now head of the conservative Heritage Foundation. DeMint has angered establishment Republicans by encouraging primary challenges, some of which resulted in unexpected Democratic Senate wins in 2012 and cost the GOP a chance at gaining a Senate majority.
Bevin claims McConnell doesn’t stand up for “Kentucky’s conservative values.” He has repeatedly criticized McConnell for failing to fight hard enough to de-fund the Affordable Care Act and more recently for McConnell’s role in a deal to reopen the government and avert a national default.
For his part, McConnell scoffs at the criticism, saying no one has fought harder against the health-care law or Obama’s policies. During Obama’s first term, McConnell famously said his number one priority was to prevent Obama’s re-election.
Lately McConnell, who has never faced a serious primary challenge, seems to be ignoring Bevin and focusing attention on presumptive Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes, the current secretary of state.
“Matt Bevin is a true conservative who will fight to stop the massive spending, bailouts, and debt that are destroying our country,” said SCF Director Matt Hoskins in the announcement. “He is not afraid to stand up to the establishment and he will do what it takes to stop Obamacare.”
The SCF has a history of affecting Republican Senate fortunes. The SCF backed Republican primary challengers in Missouri, Indiana and Delaware in the last two election cycles who defeated incumbents or establishment candidates but then lost to Democrats in the fall elections, ensuring continued Democratic control of the Senate. The SCF has also spent more than $300,000 on television ads in Kentucky criticizing McConnell.
DeMint also backed Rand Paul in his successful Senate race in 2010 which might place Paul in an awkward position. Paul has publicly endorsed McConnell while declining to criticize Bevin who hopes to benefit from at least some in Paul’s tea party base.
Just what impact the SCF’s endorsement of Bevin will have on the 2014 Senate Race in Kentucky remains to be seen, but for our part, while we can think of many reasons to criticize McConnell’s action during the last six years, working to reopen the government and to assure the funding continues for the Olmstead Locks and Dam project in western Kentucky are not among them. The shutdown of government was devastating to all of America and the locks and dam project is critical to shipping along the entire length of the Ohio River, which, of course, includes this community. To be sure, it is a costly project but one that is too vital to abandon.
People like DeMint and Bevin don’t seem to care what impact their positions will have on the nation’s economy, and they seem to have no interest in seeking compromises with those who oppose them. That’s a recipe for bad government.