Mississippi’s Republican Party leadership has been calling for “unity” between its establishment and tea party factions since the start of the U.S. Senate primary that has ripped the party apart.
But unity doesn’t appear to be in the offing.
The tea party leadership’s message to the GOP leadership is: Join or die.
And some are vowing to either sit out November’s general election or actively help Democratic candidate Travis Childers defeat incumbent Republican Thad Cochran, should Cochran’s win in Tuesday’s runoff stand.
The struggle for the Mississippi Republican Party in the near term is likely to be one for control, not unity.
“The same guys who have ridiculed and mocked not just the tea party but true conservatives are calling for unity,” said Roy Nicholson, founding chairman of the Mississippi Tea Party. “The same people who so villainously stabbed us in the back now call on us to elect the same person who they stabbed us over? … In two to six years, (the tea party) will be at the head of some party or another … We want smaller government, less taxes and more freedom. Since our Republican leadership refuses to listen to that, they have brought on the destruction of the Mississippi GOP.”
Tea party leaders and Chris McDaniel say the GOP establishment “stole” the U.S. Senate nomination from McDaniel by bringing in thousands of “liberal Democrats” to sway Tuesday’s runoff for Cochran. The Southwest Mississippi Tea Party on its Facebook site refers to the GOP establishment as the “Republican Mafia.”
McDaniel says he won the true Republican majority and is investigating a legal challenge. As he made national conservative talk show rounds last week, he was asked whether he would support Cochran and the state GOP if results stand.
He said he’s been praying about it, but still could not answer. McDaniel, now the voice for a large number of Mississippi Republicans — at the least roughly half, it would appear — said the party leadership appears to lack principles and conservatism and is no longer “the party of Reagan.”
‘Eyes on the prize’
State Republican Party Chairman Joe Nosef has been at the center of the primary maelstrom. Before the June 3 vote, tea party leaders called for his resignation, claiming he was in the bag for Cochran. They’re now calling on him to help overturn the runoff results.
Nosef has insisted the Republican divide is being overblown, that only a small but vocal group of tea party leaders are responsible for “all the vitriol” and “shenanigans” and that the Grand Old Party can be reunified in the Magnolia State.
“I’ve always felt there’s a big difference between the grassroots tea party folks and the leadership,” Nosef said. “I want to bring together the other 180,000 people who voted for Chris, and the ones who voted for Thad. I think we can do that.”
It appears the Mississippi Republican party is nearly cleaved in two, the blue-collar conservatives who are gravitating toward the tea party, and the wealthier business types and longtime incumbents, who still control the GOP party apparatus.
But Nosef said: “Here’s the good news: those people have all voted for other candidates,” Nosef said. “They elected (Lt. Gov.) Tate Reeves, (Gov.) Phil Bryant, (Secretary of State) Delbert Hosemann.”
Former state GOP Chairman Brad White said: “The Republican Party in Mississippi is still so young. We just aren’t used to having competitive primaries … But we’ve got to keep our eyes on the prize, elect Republicans to Washington to regain the majority … I really don’t think that all of the Chris McDaniel voters are died-in-the-wool, drank the Kool-Aid people.”
But Democratic Party Chairman Rickey Cole said based on similar upheavals in his party in past decades, he believes the current Republican rift will have a lasting effect.