Not chastened, after loss Conservatives take steps to challenge weak Republicans
Far from chastened by the debt debate, tea partyers and conservative groups signaled Thursday they’ve concluded they didn’t lose, but rather were sabotaged from within by weak Republicans — and they took the first steps to oust one of them. Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel announced he would challenge U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in the Republican primary next year, a day after the GOP’s senior senator voted to end the 16-day government shutdown and grant President Obama more borrowing authority.
Mr. McDaniel immediately saw a flood of support from the outside groups that had rallied against this week’s debt and spending agreement.
“Our country can’t afford any more bad votes that stem from old friends and back room deals,” said Daniel Horowitz, deputy political director of the Madison Project. “And as witnessed from the recent budget battle against Obamacare, we cannot win against Democrats if we don’t grow our conservative bench in the Senate.”
For the last two weeks the deep divisions within the GOP have been on very public display.
Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah and their allies pushed to withhold all government spending unless Mr. Obama agreed to cancel Obamacare, while party leaders called that a losing strategy and tried to come up with alternatives.
On Thursday, the GOP accepted defeat, passing a bill that gives Mr. Obama a “clean” bill to reopen government through January, and to raise debt through at least February.
A majority of Republicans supported the deal in the Senate, but the situation was reversed in the House, where Cruz allies refused to sign off on a series of plans put forward by GOP leaders to end the stalemate.
Ahead of the vote, each side blamed the other for squandering leverage.
Mr. Obama, Democratic leaders and even many top Republicans said they hoped the tea party side had learned some political and tactical lessons, particularly in fighting a fight that now appears to have been futile from the start.
But tea party lawmakers say they could have won if all Republicans had stuck together, and the lesson they draw is that they need to oust those who surrendered.
“I want my colleagues to imagine simply that Senate Republicans stood together and said: We support the House Republicans in standing with the American people,” Mr. Cruz said Wednesday on the Senate floor prior to the bill’s passage. “If that had happened, I believe this result would have been very different.”