It's RINO season in Mississippi, and whining time for the tea party. In a surprising finish to a bizarre Senate Republican primary contest in the Magnolia State, on Tuesday night Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a tea party champion, defied the predictions of pundits and narrowly lost his bid to unseat longtime incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran. Though much of the instant analysis focused on Cochran's savvy campaign strategy, Chris McDaniel's defeat was also made possible by the extreme rhetoric of a right-wing talk-radio host named Chris McDaniel.
After winning a close primary last month but by not enough to prevent a runoff election, McDaniel fell short in the GOP rerun. Though this electoral season has seen too much focus on the simplistic is-the-tea-party-dead-or-alive narrative, McDaniel's defeat is a blow to tea party hopes, and it will fuel the already intense intraparty feud. Before McDaniel made his oddly defiant nonconcession speech on Tuesday night—without mentioning Cochran and suggesting there was a way to contest the results—conservatives on Twitter were steaming mad at the GOP establishment that vanquished McDaniel in part because it persuaded African American voters to put their distaste for the GOP aside and vote for Cochran. Finally, a Republican candidate attracted black support—and the tea partiers were irate.
For the past year, the Cochran-McDaniel race often felt like a Coen brothers script. The contest managed to win the prize for most absurd Senate race in a cycle that featured an insurgent Republican in Kansas who posted X-rays of gunshot victims on his Facebook page and a tea partier in Kentucky who was caught attending a cockfight (and who denied he was there for the cockfighting). In June, a McDaniel supporter and two McDaniel campaign volunteers were arrested in connection with a break-in into the nursing home where Cochran's wife lives. This dirty trick seemed to be part of an elaborate plot to reveal that the senator was having an affair with an aide. And a Cochran campaign staffer was fired after defacing McDaniel campaign signs. With the race seemingly locked up for McDaniel prior to the runoff (if you believed the polling), the tea party favorite—who campaigned with a kooky anti-Obama conspiracy theorist—took to Facebook to taunt his opponent's daughter. Maybe that wasn't the best move.
McDaniel entered the race against Cochran last fall with the support of the big-money tea party outfits, such as the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund. He tapped into right-wing dissatisfaction with Cochran, who had brought billions of dollars in funding to the state since winning the seat in 1978. After the first primary, Cochran sought to counter the tea party assault by encouraging black voters to support him in the runoff. That move—soliciting crucial support from a Democratic voting bloc—further irked conservatives. Mississippi law prohibits voters from participating in a primary unless they plan to support the nominee—an unenforceable provision in a nation of secret balloting. McDaniel allies talked about sending in poll watchers, only, they said, to determine nothing fishy was going on. And on the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, Mississippi was once again embroiled in a controversy over black voting.
Team McDaniel's tactics seemed to bolster Cochran's outreach strategy. "The tea party intends to prevent blacks from voting on Tuesday," read one mailer distributed in black neighborhoods. It noted that McDaniel had once hosted a controversial radio show and had voted against a civil rights museum. "Mississippians cannot and will not be intimidated to the bygone era of intimidating black Mississippians from voting," this campaign flyer declared.
The mailer asserted that McDaniel "made racist comments on his radio show." It was a point Cochran's campaign had been hammering for months, seemingly without affecting a sufficient number of white Republican primary voters. As a right-wing radio host in the 2000s, McDaniel had blamed hip-hop for gun violence. He had mocked poor blacks for craving "big screen plasma TV's, Randy Moss jerseys, Air Jordan sneakers, or any type of 'bling-bling.'" He had decried discussion of reparations for slavery—pledging to move to Mexico, if such a law were ever passed. He also had spoken at events held by a neo-Confederate group that bashed Abraham Lincoln and celebrated secession. His incendiary comments, some of which were first reported by Mother Jones, gave Cochran a bona fide reason to ask African American voters, who comprise 36 percent of the state's electorate, to keep McDaniel far from Washington's halls of power.
After the votes were counted on election night—and McDaniel had lost by 1.6 points—the tea party insurgent showed no signs of surrendering. "We have to be absolutely certain that Republican primary was won by Republican voters," he told his supporters. "There is something a bit unusual about a Republican primary decided by liberal Democrats." Guess which voters he was referring to. His race may be done, but the fight is not over.
Tea party favorite Chris McDaniel spent the final weekend before Tuesday's Mississippi Republican senatorial run-off campaigning with a conspiracy theorist who has alleged that President Barack Obama is a "Manchurian candidate" working as part of a secret plan to "destroy the country."
The remarks, first reported by Right Wing Watch, were made by former Libertarian presidential candidate Wayne Allyn Root who has been pushing this anti-Obama charge for years. This past weekend, Root—who was a classmate of the president at Columbia University—traveled throughout Mississippi on a bus paid for by the Tea Party Express and spoke at rallies in support of McDaniel, who is trying to defeat incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran in a hotly contested race. McDaniel accompanied the bus for three events this past weekend.
During a rally in Biloxi, McDaniel took the stage after Root fired up the crowd with his anti-Obama rant. At that event, Root noted that the shadowy effort dates back to the early 1980s:
It's a purposeful plan to wipe out America, capitalism, the middle class, and destroy American exceptionalism and Judeo-Christian values. How do I know? Listen to this, folks. Because I'm Barack Obama's college classmate, Columbia University class of '83. And when I was there at Columbia, we all studied a plan called Cloward–Piven—if you've ever watched Glenn Beck—Cloward–Piven. And we studied Saul Alinsky. And the plan was get someone elected president, who looks fantastic, who has a beautiful wife, a beautiful children. A family man. Get him to cut his afro or his long hair, his ponytail. Put on a suit, and then lie to everybody. Make sure they know he's a moderate, not a communist...and then destroy the country by overwhelming the system with spending, with taxes, with regulations, with debt, with entitlements, with food stamps. Overwhelm it until it collapses."
Root went on to explain the covert plan, suggesting that Obama didn't really attend Columbia:
We both graduated on the same day. We both graduated political science majors. We both graduated pre-law. And I knew every human being at Columbian University in the political science department. And they all knew me. Seven hundred students. One Reagan conservative—me. And 699 Marxist communists and socialists. And you know who I didn't know? Never met him, never heard of him, never saw him. Didn't know another student at Columbia who ever met him, knew him, or saw. Barack Hussein Obama! Isn't that amazing! Now I just got back from my 30th college reunion and I searched out every one of my classmates who ever knew Barack Obama. Not one. Ladies and gentlemen, our nation is now being run by the Manchurian candidate. The real-life Manchurian candidate.
Before and during the campaign, McDaniel has showed no reluctance to associate himself with advocates of extreme right-wing views. He has hobnobbed with neo-Confederates and anti-gay crusaders. None of this has become a campaign issue.
Steve Russell's political career has largely been propelled by his Iraq War heroics. The retired Army Lt. Col., who's vying in Tuesday's Republican primary to run for the seat being vacated Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), led the battalion that hunted down and captured Saddam Hussein. After returning to civilian life, he barnstormed the country in support of a troop surge. He has also been one of the leading voices advancing the discredited claim that Iraq possessed an active weapons of mass destruction program at the time of the US invasion in 2003.
"He [Saddam Hussein] was trying to develop mass destructive weapons to include nuclear weapons," Russell said in a 2012 speech. "The record is there. We found evidence of it even in Iraq. That’s a big misconception. Oh, there was no WMD, there was no nuclear program. That is false… They were clearly on a path to develop destructive weapons." Russell, a former Oklahoma state senator, also made the dubious claim during this speech that the rationale for invading Iraq had little if anything to do with WMDs. "Was that the only basis for going in? No. It never was. It was never about WMD. It was about what right does one man have to defy the entire world."
"We have better information than the police," DeVone Boggan, the director of the Office of Neighborhood Safety.
It was a crazy idea, but Richmond, California, wouldn't have signed off on DeVone Boggan's plan if it had been suffering from an abundance of sanity. For years, the Bay Area city had been battling one of the nation's worst homicide rates and spending millions of dollars on anti-crime programs to no avail. A state senator compared the city to Iraq, and the City Council debated declaring a state of emergency. In September 2006, a man was shot in the face at a funeral for a teenager who had been gunned down two weeks earlier, spurring local clergy to urge city hall to try something new—now. "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten," says Andre Shumake Sr., a 56-year-old Baptist minister whose son was shot six times while riding his bicycle. "It was time to do something different."
More Mother Jones stories on cutting-edge crimefighting
Richmond hired consultants to come up with ideas, and in turn, the consultants approached Boggan. It was obvious that heavy-handed tactics like police sweeps weren't the solution. More than anything, Boggan, who'd been working to keep teen offenders out of prison, was struck by the pettiness of it all. The things that could get someone shot in Richmond were as trivial as stepping out to buy a bag of chips at the wrong time or in the wrong place. Boggan wondered: What if we identified the most likely perpetrators and paid them to stay out of trouble?
Boggan submitted his proposal. He didn't expect the city to come back and ask him to make it happen. "They asked me for a three-year commitment and told me to put on my seatbelt," he recalls.
Gun control lives! In a 5-4 decision Monday, the high court knocked down a National Rifle Association-backed challenge to elements of a 1968 statute that criminalizes lying about the intended owner of a firearm. The law—which basically says that you can't claim you're buying a gun for yourself when you're really buying it for someone else—has been used by the Department of Justice to target gun traffickers, who routinely employ third parties known as straw purchasers to bypass the federal background check system.
In the case, Abramski v. United States, the NRA and other gun groups argued that lying about who would end up with the gun shouldn't matter if the intended owner could legally own one—and more broadly, that the entire prohibition on straw purchasing was itself a "legal fiction" with no real basis in the law itself. Twenty-six states signed on in support, arguing that the law infringed on their rights to regulate gun sales.
In the majority opinion, Justice Elena Kagan, who was joined by the three other liberal-leaning justices and the swing vote, Anthony Kennedy, emphatically disagreed: "No piece of information is more important under federal firearms law than the identity of a gun's purchaser—the person who acquires a gun as a result of a transaction with a licensed dealer."
The challenge arose out of a case of mistaken identity. Angel Alvarez sent his nephew, Bruce Abramski, a check for $400 with instructions to purchase and deliver to him a Glock 19 handgun. Ambraksi walked into a firearm dealership in Rocky Mount, Virginia, two days later, passed a background check, and signed a form indicating that he was the intended owner of the firearm. When investigators later misidentified Abramski as a suspect in a bank robbery (he wasn't charged), federal investigators found a copy of the receipt revealing that he had purchased the Glock for his uncle—meaning he'd lied on a federal form to purchase the gun.
In lower courts, Abramski argued that his straw purchase was immaterial because his uncle was legally empowered to own a gun and could have passed a background check. But Abramski then made a far larger argument—that the 1968 gun control law really only governs the initial purchase, and had nothing to do with straw purchases. According to the NRA, federal regulators simply pulled the straw purchasing prohibition from thin air. Kagan wanted nothing of it:
The provision thus prevents remote sales except to a small class of buyers subject to extraordinary procedures—again, to ensure effective verification of a potential purchaser's eligibility. Yet on Abramski's view, a person could easily bypass the scheme, purchasing a gun without ever leaving his home by dispatching to a gun store a hired deliveryman. Indeed, if Abramski were right, we see no reason why anyone (and certainly anyone with less-than-pure motives) would put himself through the procedures laid out in §922(c): Deliverymen, after all, are not so hard to come by.
Abramski envisioned a federal gun control law that "would stare myopically at the nominal buyer while remaining blind to the person exiting the transaction with control of the gun," Kagan argued.
Monday's decision is good news for the Justice Department. The law stands. Now the government just has to find a way to enforce it.