Mitch McConnell Brings a Gun to CPAC

The Senate minority leader is in an odd spot at the annual conservative conference.

US Senator Tom Coburn (R) holds a gun given to him by US Senate Minority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell during the American Conservative Union Conference on March 6, 2014 in National Harbor, Washington. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read
National Journal
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Sarah Mimms
March 6, 2014, 6:08 a.m.

Mitch Mc­Con­nell strode out onto the stage at the Con­ser­vat­ive Polit­ic­al Ac­tion Con­fer­ence on Thursday morn­ing, pack­ing heat.

The Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er finds him­self in an odd po­s­i­tion at CPAC. For one, he’s the Re­pub­lic­an lead­er in the Sen­ate and stands to take over as the ma­jor­ity lead­er next year if some of the audi­ence’s favored can­did­ates win con­trol of blue seats in Novem­ber.

But Mc­Con­nell is also a five-term sen­at­or whose ca­reer has largely been char­ac­ter­ized by the kind of ear­mark­ing that con­ser­vat­ives did away with fol­low­ing the tea-party wave of 2010. And he’s fa­cing a chal­lenge from a tea party aco­lyte, al­beit an un­der­fun­ded one, in his home state of Ken­tucky this year.

It’s al­most no won­der that Mc­Con­nell walked onto the stage this morn­ing with a rifle in hand, which he quickly passed to Sen. Tom Coburn of Ok­lahoma, a hero among fisc­al hawks. That mo­ment marked the only time that the audi­ence cheered loudly dur­ing Mc­Con­nell’s five minutes on stage.

Mc­Con­nell’s speech was packed with red meat, fo­cused largely on de­rid­ing lib­er­als, Pres­id­ent Obama, and the me­dia”“pop­u­lar rhet­or­ic­al tac­tics at CPAC. “The pres­id­ent of the United States is treat­ing our Con­sti­tu­tion worse than a place-mat at Denny’s,” he said to mild ap­plause.

Giv­en the con­text of his ap­pear­ance here, Mc­Con­nell spent little time dis­cuss­ing his own ca­reer, fo­cus­ing in­stead on tak­ing over the Sen­ate with a Re­pub­lic­an ma­jor­ity. “I won’t let you down [as ma­jor­ity lead­er],” Mc­Con­nell prom­ised the audi­ence. “I will lead it with in­teg­rity.”¦ We will de­bate our ideas openly, we will vote without fear.”¦ The best con­ser­vat­ive ideas for lift­ing Amer­ic­ans out of poverty will get a hear­ing.”

But Mc­Con­nell’s 30 years in Wash­ing­ton wer­en’t lost on an audi­ence that has largely favored up­start tea-party can­did­ates over “ca­reer politi­cians.”

“It was a speech by a politi­cian,” one at­tendee noted wryly.