Sen. Mitch McConnell assured conservative activists he won’t disappoint them if they give him enough troops for the GOP to take control of the Senate in November’s elections, as he sought to tamp down a growing rift between tea party activists and top Republican leaders on Capitol Hill.
Carrying a rifle to the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the Kentucky Republican said if Republicans win the six seats needed to make him majority leader, conservative ideas “will get a hearing” and liberal ideas will be defeated.
“If I am given the opportunity to lead the U.S. Senate next year, I won’t let you down,” Mr. McConnell said.
But speaking to reporters earlier, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said they aren’t even planning for a possible GOP takeover, saying they don’t think it’s likely, and that if it did happen, the results would be a disaster for the nation.
Mr. McConnell, in his remarks to CPAC, affirmed that, saying Obamacare has hurt businesses and led to a presidential power grab.
Mr. McConnell’s remarks come at a time when he is facing a tea party-backed primary challenge for his Senate seat in Kentucky, and as he faces grumbling from conservatives over being the key vote that allowed President Obama a 13-month debt holiday.
“We will fight tooth and nail for conservative reforms that put this country back on track,” he said. “We will debate our ideas openly. We will vote without fear. And we will govern with the understanding that the future of this country depends on our success.”
The gun he brought to the stage was an NRA award for Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican and conservative icon who is retiring at the end of this year. Mr. McConnell said he would lead the Senate in a way that would make Mr. Coburn proud.
Still, his vow to hew to the conservative line drew derision from some in his audience Thursday.
“He’s been there too long and he is really out of touch with the real base of the Republican Party,” said Jinny Walz, a 73-year-old from Kansas, who said she feels like Republican leaders use conservative activists to win elections, but then turn on them in Washington.
“I have said this to a lot of politicians in Kansas, ‘You establishment, you treat us like prostitutes,’” she said. “At night you want us, but as soon as that is over they pretend they don’t know us. That is the sad part and that is truth.”