On Tuesday, November 12, Nebraska Senate candidate Ben Sasse walked into Mitch McConnell’s office to clear the air. Contrary to the rumors, Sasse wanted to say, he hadn’t secretly vowed to oppose McConnell’s leadership if elected. In fact, he hadn’t been asked to make such a pledge and would never have even considered it.
That was the plan, anyway.
Republicans in Washington familiar with these kinds of sessions say the Kentucky Republican’s specialty is long, tension-filled pauses. But even for McConnell, this was awkward. Josh Holmes, McConnell’s top political hand, privately told friends afterward it was the most uncomfortable meeting he’d been in.
Following the initial exchange came a series of questions about exactly when Sasse had first interacted with Matt Hoskins, the hard-charging executive director of SCF working to elect McConnell’s primary challenger, Matt Bevin, in Kentucky.
Sasse’s answers, several Republicans familiar with the episode say, did nothing to mitigate the minority leader’s anger.
As he walked out of the room, Sasse turned to Holmes — “That didn’t go well!”
The nation’s youngest university president (Nebraska’s Midland University), Sasse has become the latest collateral damage in a GOP civil war between McConnell and Holmes, on the one side, and Matt Hoskins and Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint, Hoskins’s political godfather.
After Hoskins invaded enemy territory October 18 in backing Bevin, McConnell has launched a campaign against his vendors, his allies, and candidates he has endorsed — beginning with a blacklisting of GOP ad firm Jamestown Associates.
Last week, for example, pressure from McConnell allies convinced SCF’s bookkeeper, Lisa Lisker, to part ways with the group. Lisker has previously worked for Republican candidates locked in tense primary elections without incident, sources say.
But with Majority Leader Harry Reid detonating the nuclear option in the background, the notion that his accountant had become part of an intra-GOP war incensed Hoskins. “It’s amazing that the Senate Republican leader is now bullying bookkeepers in his war on conservatives, but it won’t stop us from supporting Matt Bevin,” he says.