Here’s an interesting exchange between Chris Wallace and Republican GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Fox News Sunday yesterday:
WALLACE: Let me turn, because I would — I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t ask you a few political questions, Senator.
Conservatives are now talking about launching primary challenges against candidates who are actually picked by the Senate Republican leadership in a number of states. We have them up on a map there — in Florida, in Connecticut, in Illinois, in California, and your home state of Kentucky.
In fact, it has gotten so serious that the National Republican Senate Committee has stopped endorsing candidates because it seems that it creates a grassroots backlash.
How concerned are you — how much of a threat is this split within the GOP to your chances in 2010, the way it kind of messed up things in that upstate congressional district in New York?
MCCONNELL: No threat at all. I mean, what you see here is enormous enthusiasm to run. People believe that getting the Republican nomination means you have a good chance of winning.
And so we’ve got, for example, a four-way primary in Connecticut for our nomination, a state we haven’t been competitive in in a very long time. So our view is this is an indication of the shifting political environment.
We all know the Gallup poll just last week, in response — asked the American people if the election were held today would you vote for the Republican candidate for Congress or the Democratic candidate for Congress. Our side had a four-point lead. Among independents it had a 22-point lead.
The political landscape, Chris, has shifted dramatically in the last year…
WALLACE: But — but let…
MCCONNELL: … since this administration, and that’s…
WALLACE: … but let me just…
MCCONNELL: … why all of these — that’s why all of these people want to run for office.
WALLACE: But let me just briefly ask you about the political landscape within the party, because it now seems that an endorsement by the National Republican Senatorial Committee is a bad thing, not a badge of honor.
MCCONNELL: Well, they generally don’t endorse anyway. So it doesn’t make any difference. I mean, we’re happy that there are a lot of people running, and the reason they’re running is because they think the nomination’s worth having because they think they can win in November.
Now I find all of that very interesting for a couple of reasons. One:
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s public support is collapsing in South Carolina – driven by a wholesale revolt among the GOP electorate and a steady erosion of his support amongst independents.
Already consistently loathed by a solid third of GOP voters, Graham’s recent leftward bent – including his co-authoring of a controversial “Cap and Tax” proposal supported by President Barack Obama and liberal Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) – has him locked in a “terminal free fall,” according one prominent Republican consultant.
I told you about that in a post entitled “Why The GOP Remains A Minority Party“. Graham is typical of the type of politician the conservative base is sick and tired of. While NY-23 was the harbinger, Graham’s defeat in a primary would be the definitive signal that the game has decidedly changed within the GOP. Mitch McConnell, putting the best face he can on it, has obviously sniffed out the trend and is “enthusiastically” supporting it.
That’s the second thing I find interesting – will the NRSC be throwing funds Graham’s way in his next re-election campaign (certainly doing so would be interpreted as a sign of endorsement) or not? Taking McConnell and the NRSC at their word (always an iffy bet) I’d have to say no.
The bottom line here is the politicians are paying attention. Given McConnell’s words they don’t see this building opposition to the more “moderate” Scozzafava-type Republicans as going away. In fact, when McConnell says they’re seeing a “shifting political environment”, he’s admitting they’ve finally figured out where that shift is headed, the fact that it is not a fad or a temporary phenomenon and that he and the rest of the GOP politicians had better get on board or find themselves facing a primary opponent.
I’m going to be very interested to see where that leaves mushy old Lindsey Graham in all of this when election time rolls around.
[Crossposted at QandO]