Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell likes to say, “If someone flicks a pebble at you, you hurl a boulder back at him.” His political team is just as emphatic. Some Republicans in Kentucky who flirted with working for his primary opponent, Matt Bevin, were told by the McConnell allies that they would get the “death penalty.” Another frequent warning: “Mitch McConnell doesn’t take prisoners.”
McConnell’s team “shoots the wounded on the battlefield as a matter of course,” says University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato. A former GOP leadership aide who has seen the McConnell operation up close sounds terrified. “They’re all killers,” he says, without a trace of humor in his voice. “These are not guys to be trifled with. They are burn it down, p*** on it, then blow it up kind of guys.”
In blacklisting Jamestown, McConnell has opened up a new front in what has become an open war between McConnell and Holmes, on the one side, and Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint and SCF executive director Matt Hoskins on the other.
Freshly re-provisioned from millions of dollars in donations that flooded in during the government-shutdown episode, Hoskins, a former DeMint aide, invaded enemy territory October 18 when he decided to back Bevin.
For McConnell, this is the direst threat of his career, as he’s now in a two-front war, with Bevin on one flank and Democratic challenger Allison Lundergan Grimes on the other. The wily incumbent is upping the ante, casting the fight as a battle for the future of the Republican party.
“This is an election where you are choosing sides,” says former McConnell chief of staff Billy Piper, now a lobbyist at Fierce, Isakowitz, and Blalock. “We’re finding out where people are. This is not just about the May 2014 primary. This is about the future of the party. Do we want to get to 51 — and, we hope, 55 over time? Or do we want to have 25–30 guys in the Senate who we think are going to be reliably conservative no matter what but who are never able to achieve anything other than drafting a strongly worded white paper?”
Hard-charging Hoskins is undaunted. “Mitch McConnell is doing this because he can’t defend his record and running dirty campaigns is all he knows how to do,” he says. McConnell has often exercised power in D.C. by pressuring major donors to withhold donations from a given lawmaker or organization. His allies on K Street are often the people who deliver this message and “enforce” it. SCF is receiving most of its donations from a large number of individuals who send in small-dollar amounts. McConnell can’t easily pressure these grassroots donors — they aren’t professional politicians and they’re far from D.C.