A day after dispatching his tea-party opponent in Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took something of a victory lap.
Back at the Capitol after defeating Louisville businessman Matt Bevin in Tuesday's primary by 24 points despite Bevin's strong support from tea-party groups, McConnell did not bring up his earlier prediction that establishment Republicans would "crush" tea-party candidates.
But, he did point out that conservative groups spent heavily against him—futilely.
"Shortly after the polls closed last night, I was endorsed by the Madison Project, the Senate Conservatives Fund, FreedomWorks, and Erick Erickson down at Red State," McConnell said. "Collectively this group spent about a million dollars against me in the primary but they all got on board last night."
Calling for conservative unity, McConnell said Republicans need to pick candidates who can win in November.
"I think what you see all across the country this year is two things," McConnell said. "Number one, we want to nominate candidates who can actually win in November. And number two, everybody wants to win. And even if we had some back and forth during the primaries I think what you're gonna see is a very unified right-of-center bloc, with highly credible candidates going into the November election all across America."
His comments came after voters in Idaho and Georgia defeated establishment-allergic candidates on Tuesday and amid a broader debate within the GOP about which candidates can best win elections.
The next skirmish in that battle will be the June 3 primary between Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel and Republican Sen. Thad Cochran. The Senate Conservatives Fund has backed McDaniel while national Republicans are behind Cochran.
The larger question is whether Republicans can capture the six seats they'll need to gain the majority. McConnell sounds optimistic about that. Asked why the tea-party-endorsed candidates have not won, McConnell refocused on the bigger electoral picture.
"The goal here is to win in November. And to do that you have to have nominees who can appeal to a broad audience in most states. And so the fact that we're having primaries itself is not troubling provided the ultimate candidate can actually win. I think the difference this time is we're in the process of nominating, I hope, I believe in every one of these contested primaries the most electable nominee regardless of who may have supported whom during the primary process," he said.
As to whether there are any lingering recriminations between the minority leader and the outside groups that the other day opposed him while today supporting him, McConnell did not say.
"I'm happy to have them on board," he said.
The Death Knell of the Tea Party
This article appears in the May 22, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.