In a stirring display of old-fashioned political pragmatism, national tea party groups have quickly endorsed the reelection of a man they were campaigning against only 24 hours ago: Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
“It’s time for Republicans to unite for victory in November,” said Matt Hoskins of the Senate Conservatives Fund, which had vowed to turn McConnell out of office.
“I will proudly support Mitch McConnell,” wrote Erick Erickson of the blog RedState, who also supported McConnell’s opponent, Matt Bevin.
“Bevin’s principled challenge helped Senator McConnell rediscover his conservative principles,” offered Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, a tea party group that once dismissed McConnell as “a workhorse for special interests” and posted a “Top Ten Ridiculous Quotes by Mitch McConnell” on its website.
Does this mean all is forgiven in the fractious conservative camp?
Not exactly. Bevin couldn’t quite bring himself to endorse McConnell on Tuesday night. As for all those Washington-based tea party organizations, they recognize that their legitimacy in the GOP now depends partly on whether they help Republicans win a majority in the Senate this fall — making McConnell majority leader — or get blamed for another embarrassing shortfall.
The two ends of the GOP still have plenty to argue about. There’s still a Senate primary in Mississippi in which tea party activists hope to unseat Sen. Thad Cochran. There’s major debate among Republicans in Congress on whether to try for immigration reform this year (the establishment, led by Speaker John A. Boehner, says yes; many tea party-aligned conservatives say no).
And there’s still a presidential campaign approaching in 2016, one that will almost surely pit one or more tea party-style candidates such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) against one or more establishment types like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
So the argument isn’t over. In politics, it almost never is.
In my column Wednesday, I wrote that the GOP civil war now looks more like a merger. But anyone who has ever watched a corporate merger (or a marriage) knows that there can be plenty of conflict long after the wedding.