Political Hay

Kelly Ayotte’s Lynch Mob

Base vs. Establishment battle erupts in Senate GOP.

By 10.8.13

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Kelly Ayotte was furious.

One media account after another (as here) has the Republican and theoretically conservative New Hampshire senator angrily attacking Senator Ted Cruz in a recent closed-door Senate GOP Caucus. Behaving as follows, this much cited and notably un-refuted coming from the New York Times, bold print supplied here for emphasis:

And on Wednesday at a private luncheon, several Senate Republicans -- Dan Coats of Indiana, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire -- assailed Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who has led the movement to block funding for the health law.

Ms. Ayotte was especially furious, according to two people present, and waved a printout from a conservative group friendly to Mr. Cruz attacking 25 of his fellow Republican senators for supporting a procedural vote that the group counted as support of the health law.

Ms. Ayotte asked Mr. Cruz to disavow the group’s effort and demanded he explain his strategy. When he did not, several other senators -- including Mr. Johnson, Mr. Coats and even Mitch McConnell, the minority leader -- joined in the criticism of Mr. Cruz.

"It just started a lynch mob," said a senator who was present.

By Friday, Senator Mike Lee, who with Cruz was the subject of all this GOP senatorial outrage from colleagues, took to radio’s Hugh Hewitt show to say this, as reported in the Daily Caller, again with bold print for emphasis:

“[N]ormally, I don’t comment at all on closed-door meetings between Republican senators,” Lee said. “It’s a pretty strict rule we follow. But one exception I’ll make is circumstances like this, where contents of the meeting were leaked deliberately by several of my colleagues and leaked in a very one-sided way. I’m happy to tell you about it here.”

“It was an all-out attack against Ted Cruz and me,” he continued. “It was unflattering. It was unfair. It was demeaning. It was demeaning to Sen. Cruz and me, but more than anything, it was demeaning to those who engaged in the attack.”

Lee said a number of senators had risen to speak against him and Cruz — “enough that I lost count.”

“I have to ask the question — why weren’t those who leaked this and leaked it in an unflattering and unfavorable way — why were they not willing to attach their names to those quotes?” he said. “You know, Ted Cruz and I spoke after the meeting and you know, we would both be fine with the American people seeing and hearing what we said in that meeting. But we’re pretty sure most of our colleagues would be very uncomfortable and downright embarrassed if their constituents saw the way they were behaving.”

Lee went on to add that:

“There were a lot of people who were participating directly in the attacks, adding fuel to the fire. There were a lot of others who were staring at their shoes.”

Got all that?

And you thought when you voted for conservative as a United States Senator that person would go to Washington to represent you?

Well, maybe you did. Maybe, in fact, these GOP senators are so terrified by their consultants selling the old bogus “independent vote” shtick that, terrified, they flee their roots. Just this weekend the very dependably dopey GOP consultant Mike Murphy was back hawking this business on the place where GOP consultants are always invited to trash conservatism -- NBC’s Meet the Press. Here’s Murphy at work, host Savannah Guthrie soothingly setting him up for Murphy’s usual conservative bashing, the appropriate bold emphasis provided:

Guthrie: Let me turn to Mike Murphy, Republican strategist. Two-thirds of the country don't like the tactic of shutting down the government. Even if they don't like Obamacare, they don't like this tactic.

And right on cue, GOP consultant Murphy provides the advice NBC liberals love to hear, emphasis provided:

Murphy: Right. That's the problem. I think we ought to go back to the problems with the computer sites. Because what we have is a perfect storm here. You take the cynics who run the Democratic party, and you take the stupid wing of the House G.O.P. they fell for a trap. So now we're going to debate all this, when we're 13 months away from an election the Republicans can win on Obamacare.

But instead, somehow a monkey wrench got thrown in the system and now everybody hates Congress and Republicans are taking the bigger political hit. I saw a poll the other day where the approval rating for the U.S. Congress was at 5% and the margin of error was six. You could not statistically prove that anybody who exists in the country approved of Congress, and this is why.

Murphy later continued on the politics of the shutdown:

MIKE MURPHY: On the policy, I'm so sympathetic to my side on this. I think they're right about a lot of it. But that's why we have midterm elections, so you can throw Democrats out of office over Obamacare. There's no rule in politics. When your opponent is in trouble, when they're drowning politically, you throw them a fire hose.

We threw them a lifeboat and a machine gun, because now we're going to debate this. (THROAT CLEAR) Excuse me, I'm all choked up. Instead of 13 months away, getting control of the Senate, which means we can have the policy fight within the system. So on the tactical basis, it is an incredible stupid move.

To borrow from NASA astronaut lingo: Houston, we have a problem.

Let’s begin by focusing on New Hampshire’s Senator Kelly Ayotte, a lynch mob leader.

Senator Ayotte won her GOP primary with the enthusiastic endorsement of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. While she narrowly beat a candidate who was seen as a Tea Party favorite, Ayotte herself campaigned as a conservative, and Sarah Palin happily endorsed Ayotte as a “Granite Grizzly” and a “true conservative.”

Ayotte, a wonderfully nice person, won. Perhaps she is in the clutch of some Murphy-like GOP consultant who insists that instead of doing the Reaganesque thing and moving the center to the right -- aka being a leader --  she must not be “stupid” and instead move the right to the center. Which means caving on immigration and attacking Ted Cruz.

Who knows?

But the rest of the story is all too drearily familiar. A new senator or congressman with conservative credentials comes to Washington and, as the saying goes, “grows in office.” (Hat tip to Tom Bethell who began noting here in The American Spectator as far back as 1982 that when a conservative went bad the liberal media began saying they had “grown in office.”)

Kelly Ayotte has now officially “grown in office.” Once she wanted Ted Cruz in New Hampshire to star at a New Hampshire GOP fundraiser, an event at which Cruz praised her lavishly -- as seen here

Now, she is part of a “lynch mob” going after Cruz.

No less than Governor Palin herself noticed this problem with Senator Ayotte when Ayotte sided with Marco Rubio -- and the Washington GOP Establishment -- on immigration. Ayotte and Rubio, said Palin, had “turned their back” on conservatives. Reported the Washington Times:

“Every politician should be held accountable for breaking their campaign promises,” Ms. Palin said, on Fox News radio. Mr. Rubio touted in his 2010 primary against Charlie Crist that “border security would come first,” and he would never vote for “legalization of illegal immigrants” and amnesty, Ms. Palin said. And Ms. Ayotte pledged on her campaign website in 2010 a “no excuses” mantra about border security -- and also vowed to vote against amnesty.

Ms. Palin actually endorsed Ms. Ayotte for her Senate run.

Over at National Review the editors there understood immediately what was afoot, saying this of an Ayotte appearance on Face the Nation:

Announcing her support for the Gang of Eight immigration bill on Sunday morning’s Face the Nation, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.) called it a “thoughtful, bipartisan solution to a tough problem.” Thoughtful is one thing her support for that bill is not. In an op-ed published on her website, Ayotte shows no sign of knowing what the main objections of the bill’s critics are, much less of having grappled with them.

The magazine closed by saying of Ayotte’s new found position on immigration that:

It is a long way from what she said in 2010, when she ran for the Senate on a platform of enforcing the immigration laws first. And it’s a long way from thoughtful.

NR was spot on here about Ayotte, and there’s one more thing to add about that Ayotte comment of seeking a “thoughtful, bipartisan solution to a tough problem.” We have cited it here before and, since Ayotte herself used the word, we will again cite William F. Buckley Jr.’s alarm at the very word “bipartisan” with the bold print emphasis.

The most alarming single danger to the American political system lies in the fact that an identifiable team of Fabian operators is bent on controlling both our major political parties(under the sanction of such fatuous and unreasoned slogans as “national unity,” “middle-of-the-road,” “progressivism,” and “bipartisanship.”) Clever intriguers are reshaping both parties in the image of Babbitt, gone Social-Democrat. When and where this political issue arises, we are, without reservations, on the side of the traditional two-party system that fights its feuds in public and honestly; and we shall advocate the restoration of the two-party system at all costs.

So the red flag was already raised about Ayotte, both by Palin and NR, in that case for abandonment of well-stated conservative principle on immigration in the name of “bipartisanship” -- a word specifically cited by Buckley as “the most alarming single danger to the American political system.” With no less than Governor Palin herself accusing Ayotte of having gone back on principle.

Now come these multiples of reports of a “lynch mob” from people “inside the room” of that Republican-Senators-only lunch. Tellingly the tale comes from senators who agreed with Ayotte and couldn’t wait to alert the media -- and not just any media but the New York Times (!!) -- of her performance. Why? Because they thought making it known of a GOP Senate lynch mob going after Cruz and Lee helped the cause they share with her. Ayotte was “furious” with Cruz, these GOP senators proclaimed. Furious because conservative groups were criticizing Ayotte for opposing Cruz and Lee in their efforts to both end Obamacare and begin the move to restore fiscal sanity to America.

What does this behavior of Ayotte’s say? What does it say about the other named GOP senators -- Indiana’s Dan Coats and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson -- in the story? Not to mention those who were not mentioned but were part of what the paper called the “lynch mob” that was out for Cruz and Lee? What does it telegraph?

Simply put, this behavior screams; “It’s all about ME!!!”

Forget about principle. Forget about campaign promises. Forget that Ayotte “Granite Grizzly” business and Palin’s description of Ayotte being a “true conservative.” It’s all about attacks on Kelly Ayotte -- by conservatives.

At a breath-taking stroke, Kelly Ayotte -- elected a mere 2-plus years ago in 2010 -- has quickly revealed what her conception of being a United States Senator is really all about: Kelly Ayotte.

We’ll come back to Ayotte, but let’s pause a minute and take a look at another piece of interesting news from the last few days.

Last Friday there was this riveting column in the Wall Street Journal by Niall Ferguson, the British historian turned Harvard Professor of History, Hoover Institution Fellow, Oxford Fellow and bestselling author of multiple heavyweight books. Ferguson’s latest: The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die.

In an article titled "The Shutdown Is a Sideshow. Debt Is the Threat: An entitlement-driven disaster looms for America, yet Washington persists with its game of Russian roulette," Ferguson begins this way:

In the words of a veteran investor, watching the U.S. bond market today is like sitting in a packed theater and smelling smoke. You look around for signs of other nervous sniffers. But everyone else seems oblivious.”

…. Yet, entertaining as all this political drama may seem, the theater itself is indeed burning. For the fiscal position of the federal government is in fact much worse today than is commonly realized. As anyone can see who reads the most recent long-term budget outlook—published last month by the Congressional Budget Office, and almost entirely ignored by the media—the question is not if the United States will default but when and on which of its rapidly spiraling liabilities.

One would think this a serious moment. Ferguson isn’t alone in waving the red flag that entitlements are, to switch metaphors, unerringly driving America off the fiscal cliff.

This is, of course, at the base of the Ted Cruz-Mike Lee adamant refusal to fund Obamavare. Obamacare is not just going to destroy the American health care system, forcing people out of jobs and all the rest. It is part of a century long attack by progressives to continually ratchet the American government and the nation itself left-ward to full blown socialism. A socialism that in fact -- indeed as Niall Ferguson writes -- is already on the way to bankrupting the nation.

And what is Kelly Ayotte seemingly concerned about? As portrayed -- deliberately -- by her “friends” inside the Senate GOP Caucus?

Attacks from angry conservatives who see her as having pulled a bait-and-switch. Mouthing conservative principle when in fact the real reason Ayotte wanted to be in the Senate was apparently because, as her proudly advertised Senate GOP Caucus tantrum so vividly illustrated, it’s all about her.

The message to Cruz and Lee and the conservative movement from Ayotte? From her GOP colleagues in the “lynch mob”? “How dare you criticize me!” There was no discussion of principle -- let alone admiration and cheers for Cruz and Lee. No, no, no. This was about Ayotte and her GOP senatorial “lynch mob” being furious at conservative attacks on themselves that were as understandable as they were inevitable.

This is a fight, as both Cruz and Lee have said, that is really between the Washington Establishment and the American people. The very fact that Ayotte’s “friends” think portraying her in the fashion they have done is a political benefit tells conservatives more than they need to know about the internals of GOP senators.

Yesterday Rush Limbaugh drew attention to this story about Obamacare in the San Jose Mercury. The story focused on “Winners and Losers” in the Bay area of California, and two Obama-supporting independents who have been shocked -- stunned -- to see their health care costs suddenly sky rocket. One, Tom Waschura, opened his mail the other day to learn his costs were going up by $10,000. Said Waschura:

“I was laughing at Boehner -- until the mail came today. I really don't like the Republican tactics, but at least now I can understand why they are so pissed about this. When you take $10,000 out of my family's pocket each year, that's otherwise disposable income or retirement savings that will not be going into our local economy.”

Then there was California Obama voter Cindy Vinson, who learned abruptly her insurance was skyrocketing up by $1800 a year. Said she:

“Of course, I want people to have health care," Vinson said. "I just didn't realize I would be the one who was going to pay for it personally.”

Catch that? The first Obama supporter thought Boehner -- and by extension that means Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and all those Senate and House Republicans who are not the Kelly Ayottes of the world -- was someone to be laughed at.

Until his health care bill arrived in the mail. Suddenly, he gets why Boehner, Cruz, Lee, and the others leading this charge are “so pissed about this.”

The second Obama supporter out there in liberal land was stunned to realize she -- personally -- was going to be paying for somebody else’s health care.

Which is more than one can say for Senator Ayotte as presented by her GOP senatorial buds. Ayotte in fact scalded by those conservative groups precisely because yes, her election-year rhetoric aside, she has now suddenly presented herself as one of 25 Senate Republicans who scorned principle for Establishment Washington favor. In the eyes of many conservatives, Kelly Ayotte is now as much responsible for those rising insurance costs as President Obama himself. In the words of For America’s Brent Bozell warning back there in the yesterday of a couple weeks ago: “You fund it, you own it.”

Ayotte chose to fund it -- then is presented as going ballistic at Ted Cruz and Mike Lee for pointing out the obvious.

The other day, the Washington Post ran this story headlined:

Some longtime Republican donors are unnerved by the GOP’s shutdown strategy

Who are these “Republican donors” that are “increasingly alarmed by the defiant stance” by Ted Cruz and company?

You guessed it. That would be donors to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the groups that launched a furor when they tried to position moderate Republican liberalism as conservatives. Typical was this, as the Post reported it.

“I oppose Obamacare as much as anyone else does, but this is not the way to repeal it," said Bobbie Kilberg, a longtime GOP donor and fundraiser in Northern Virginia. "The fact is, donors have had it," Kilberg added, saying she will not give donations to groups raising money broadly for House or Senate Republicans. “I will only give to individual candidates who get it.”

Stop right here.

Who is Bobbie Kilberg? She is an ex-aide to Presidents Nixon, Ford, and both Bushes. Which is to say, she is hardly a Reaganite. In fact, she ran on her moderate Republicanism for both the Virginia State Senate and the Virginia nomination for lieutenant governor -- losing because GOP voters saw her as not conservative. Amusingly, to illustrate the point, way back there in 1993 when Ms. Kilberg was running for office in Virginia the Times wrote up that year’s elections in Virginia. And what did they say? The Virginia GOP was too conservative and its candidates for governor and state attorney general -- George Allen and Jim Gilmore, respectively -- were pitted against moderate Democrats and headed for defeat. In fact, both men won their elections, with Allen going on to serve in the Senate and Gilmore later becoming governor. Shades of Ken Cuccinelli.

Did I mention, speaking of donors and the moderate American Crossroads, the group famously got this thumbs down from one of America’s most prominent donors, Donald Trump. Tweeted Trump after the 2012 elections:

Congrats to @KarlRove on blowing $400 million this cycle. Every race @CrossroadsGPS ran ads in, the Republicans lost. What a waste of money.

And American Crossroads donors think the problem is Ted Cruz? Really?

There are conservatives aplenty who think the real problem in the GOP is donors like Kilberg who repeatedly advocate losing candidates when not busy losing themselves, or if in office -- continuing to steer America left. Just more smoothly, well-managed and politely.

What Cruz and Lee and the millions of Americans who are backing them now understand is that, as Niall Ferguson has put it, there is the smell of smoke in the American house. Unlike those Obamacare supporters in San Jose who only smelled smoke when their own health insurance bills arrived -- now jacked up by $10,000 and $1,800 a year -- these conservatives have gotten the inevitable consequences of decades of leftist -- and moderate Republican -- government expansion all along.

They are not happy.

The news that Senator Ayotte and her “lynch mob” buddies among those 25 Obamacare-funding Senate Republican colleagues used a private GOP Senate lunch to attack Cruz and Lee is bad enough. The realization that some of these same senators then leaked the news of Ayotte’s fury -- under the gleeful assumption it was smart politics -- is throwing the proverbial political gasoline onto an already raging political bonfire. At a stroke they have laid a political bonfire that may well turn Ayotte’s once-promising Senate career into ashes. This is clueless. Utterly, utterly clueless. If Senator Ayotte is doing this as a result of some idiotic consultant and the polls, she is confirming the worst of reactions to the publicity launched by her supposedly “helpful” moderate GOP Senate colleagues. Who have pictured her with unbelievable stupidity as some sort of self-centered moderate lynch mob leading witch. Hillary Clinton with less steroids. 

Worse than the personal insult delivered to Ayotte by her own (male) moderate colleagues?

Precisely as Senator Lee told Hugh Hewitt?

This really is a fight between the American people and the Washington Establishment.

Senator Ayotte and her GOP senatorial lynch mob friends are repeatedly sending signals as to which side of this fight they are on.

Those signals are not good.

And they are being noted.

Can Senator Ayotte do better than this?

Yes.

The sooner the better.

And a public apology to Ted Cruz and Mike Lee would be the place to start.

Photo: UPI

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.