JOHNSON: Wasting Republican capital on Cochran in Mississippi

The NRSC’s support of Cochran is setting up the party to fail

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The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) should view Mississippi’s June 24 runoff election to determine the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate as a blessing. After all, conservative state Sen. Chris McDaniel has a clear shot to force Thad Cochran, a tax-and-spend, six-term incumbent, into a long-overdue retirement, then cruise to an easy general election victory in one of the reddest states in the land.

Unfortunately, the NRSC doesn’t see it that way. That’s because the organization is more interested in protecting GOP incumbents — even terrible ones — than working to elect the best Republican candidates.

As the years have passed, Mr. Cochran has grown more out of touch with the free-market, limited-government ideals he professes to defend — the exact principles on which the modern Republican Party is built. If anything, he is now an enemy of fiscal conservatism, voting for green-energy boondoggles, a waste-filled highway bill, proposals to tax the Internet, corporate-welfare schemes and misguided minimum-wage increases, and against earmark bans and balanced-budget proposals.

Mississippi’s senior senator earned a score of just 53 percent — lower than nearly every other Republican in the Senate — in the National Taxpayers Union’s latest rating of members of Congress based on their support of legislation that reduced taxes, spending and the debt.

Perhaps worst of all, just last year Mr. Cochran voted to hike taxes on 77 percent of American households.

You would think the NRSC would be pleased as punch that an actual fiscal conservative could replace a widely ridiculed, out-of-touch senator who is well past his sell-by date and poorly represents Republican values.

You’d be wrong.

Apparently, the NRSC is now in the business of helping bad Republicans defeat good ones in competitive primaries. For proof, just look at the NRSC’s dimwitted decision to pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into the Mississippi Senate race in support of Mr. Cochran.

Choosing to fritter away precious financial resources in the Mississippi Senate race has made the NRSC look nuttier than a squirrel’s winter stash. After all, every dollar the NRSC spends supporting Mr. Cochran is a dollar it can’t spend helping Republicans gain seats in the Senate this November. Democrats must be thrilled by the NRSC’s stupidity.

Apparently, the NRSC began spending money in the Mississippi primary out of a fear that the more conservative Mr. McDaniel could be vulnerable in the general election against a moderate Democratic challenger. In reality, Democrats have as much chance of winning a Senate seat in Mississippi as Jamaica has of hosting the Winter Olympics.

The NRSC is unaware of what the rest of us already know: In Mississippi, a Republican candidate can’t lose a statewide general election — at least as long as he’s Christian and heterosexual.

Even if that weren’t the case, and Democrats picked up the seat held by Thad Cochran, it might be a better outcome for the GOP than keeping the disappointing Mr. Cochran in office. The NRSC fails to understand that a bad Republican can actually be worse for the party — and for America — than a Democrat. When someone like Mr. Cochran votes for tax increases, hikes spending and combats efforts to limit government, they both function as an additional Democratic vote in Congress anyway and damage voters’ perceptions of the Republican brand. As a result, they cost the GOP both policy victories and elections.

Since neither Mr. McDaniel nor Mr. Cochran collected more than 50 percent of the votes in the June 3 primary, the NRSC could have simply chosen to put an end to the expensive, dirty and damaging primary battle by coalescing behind Mr. McDaniel, who had 3,000 more votes than Mr. Cochran, in the runoff election. Instead, the NRSC redoubled its bizarre efforts, pledging to spend even more time and money in support of Mr. Cochran.

The NRSC’s behavior and decision-making in the Mississippi primary is indicative of a larger problem plaguing the NRSC and the Republican Party as a whole. Too often, party leaders are unwilling to criticize or work to defeat Republican incumbents who fail to live up to the standards and principles central to the party. Instead of condemning Republican efforts to increase taxes, spending or governmental authority that ultimately undermine the party, the NRSC, Republican National Committee and other Republican organizations choose to look the other way.

That kind of thinking is exactly why Democrats control the White House and the Senate today.

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