On March 15, 44 BC, the “Ides of March,” colleagues of Julius Caesar betrayed him. Seeking to restore the Roman Republic, several Roman Senators assassinated Caesar, the Roman “dictator for life” who many believed wanted to overthrow the Senate entirely, by stabbing him 23 times. But the conspirators failed in their mission as they were ultimately unable to restore the Roman Republic.
On March 15, 2018, we saw a reverse “Ides of March” in Mississippi, as Establishment conspirators, led by Phil Bryant, betrayed Senator Chris McDaniel, who wants to win election to the US Senate to help restore the American Republic. Whereas Roman Senators engaged in a conspiracy to overthrow an Establishment figure to rid the country of dictatorship, Mississippi’s Establishment seeks to overthrow a determined conservative in order to prevent a return to the Founding principles of the American Republic.
On the afternoon of March 14, Senator McDaniel announced that he was dropping his primary challenge against Roger Wicker to run for the open Senate seat being vacated by Thad Cochran, who narrowly “defeated” McDaniel in 2014.
But this new campaign, which McDaniel has billed as an effort to avoid the same bloodbath in Mississippi that plagued Alabama last fall and led to the election of a Democrat, has now turned into an Establishment mudslinging and backstabbing operation. Governor Phil Bryant, who McDaniel believed was his friend, began lashing out at McDaniel with heated rhetoric that lasted most of the day on Thursday, March 15. Bryant is angry that McDaniel decided to jump into the open Senate special election set for November.
In the Clarion Ledger, Geoff Pender described Bryant as a “Tea Party governor,” who is now in a battle with McDaniel, the “Tea Party darling.” McDaniel is certainly a hero to the Tea Party but Phil Bryant, who won the governorship in 2011 on the coattails of the movement, has strayed far from the pack in recent years. The reason is clear. As Keith Plunkett wrote for Mississippi Pep, it’s about “power and money.”
Bryant wanted an easy Senate pick, someone his Establishment handlers would approve of. This would put him in good standing with Mitch McConnell, Haley Barbour, and the Butler Snow firm, or wherever else he might be looking for post-governorship employment.
But McDaniel has now wrecked his plans. And instead of reacting to it like a gentleman, Bryant lashed out like a petulant child. “This opportunistic behavior is a sad commentary for a young man who once had great potential,” Bryant said of McDaniel. On a question about the special election race, he said of McDaniel, “This is not the business for you.” So we can only guess whose business it is. Mitch McConnell’s perhaps?
Bryant has also lashed out at McDaniel’s supporters, many of whom have phoned the Governor’s office wanting Bryant to appoint McDaniel to the Senate in place of Cochran, who will step down April 1. According to press reports, Bryant has been “angered” and “peeved” by the “repeated calls.” So he’s angry at hearing from his constituents? This is a sign of a typical politician who is out of touch with the people. One wonders if he would become angry at getting “repeated calls” from Barbour, McConnell, and elites at top lobbying firms!
In response to Bryant’s cutting “opportunistic” remark, McDaniel hit back hard: “To his point, I would suggest he didn’t think I was opportunistic when I was his chairman in Jones County when he ran for lieutenant governor. He didn’t think I was opportunistic when I helped him get elected and then led his fights on the floor of the Senate for four years. He didn’t think I was opportunistic when I helped him get elected governor, or when I filed a federal Obamacare lawsuit with him as my client …. It seems the only time he found me opportunistic was when Mitch McConnell told him to find it opportunistic.”
The problem as McDaniel sees it is that Mitch McConnell, the US Senate Majority Leader, is getting involved in choosing Mississippi Senate seats and working to keep McDaniel out, the same tactic he used in Alabama. “Mitch McConnell has his fingerprints on everything in Mississippi,” McDaniel said.
To this Bryant replied, “That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard of. The decision (on a Senate appointment) will be mine and mine alone, with no one from the outside, no one from the swamp or the outside world or Mars or Jupiter is going to come here and try to tell me (what to do) … (McDaniel) knows better than that. I’m never going to run for office again, and I’m going to do what is best and the highest purpose for the people of Mississippi.”
Aside from the fact that it’s probably a good thing he’s not running for another office again because he’d get trounced, Bryant is not being truthful on this one. It is a well-known fact that Bryant was Mitch McConnell’s special guest at President Trump’s State of the Union address earlier this year and the two of them dined together that night. We know that Cochran’s Senate seat vacancy was a topic of conversation because both McConnell, and apparently Trump at some point, urged Bryant to appoint himself to the seat. What else was discussed? You can bet everything was literally on the table that night.
As McDaniel said in his announcement on March 14, “It’s no secret that the Mississippi Republican establishment has been coordinating with Mitch McConnell to do everything in their power to keep me from getting elected to the United States Senate just as they did with Mo Brooks in Alabama. Mitch McConnell wants to hand-pick our next senator. I understand why. It’s because they know that I won’t be answering to Mitch McConnell, I’ll be answering to the voters of Mississippi and putting them first.”
So now that there’s a new race on, Bryant has vowed to work against McDaniel. According to Pender, Bryant said that he “and likely, Trump, will work to defeat McDaniel in the special Senate election.”
McDaniel, though, as gracious as ever, replied to Bryant’s day-long “Ides of March” barrage with a nice Facebook post: “Saddened that my friend Phil Bryant hit me pretty hard today. Still love you buddy, but I will not be deterred. We need a fighter. Drain it all. #DitchMitch.”
So what is this new fight really about? Why has Phil Bryant gotten so nasty with Chris McDaniel all of a sudden? Is it really about power and money?
As Bryant said, he is not interested in running for another office, which is why he rejected any suggestion that he appoint himself to the Senate. Bryant is looking for a cushy, high-paying job when his term as governor is over in January 2020. To do that he will need the assistance of Haley Barbour and Mitch McConnell.
And, rest assured, Bryant will get his lobbying gig in 2020 but first he must pay the pipers before he can dance to the lucrative tune and the pipers want to keep Chris McDaniel out of the US Senate. He’s too dangerous for McConnell and the continuation of the status quo. “Mitch McConnell just wants lapdogs, he doesn’t want leaders,” McDaniel said.
So, Phil Bryant’s statesman-like declarations notwithstanding, he has made the Senate seat the business of Barbour and McConnell. Bryant is now solidly on the side of the rich, moneyed, lobbying elite and against the lasting interests of the people of Mississippi. That should be obvious to all.
If Bryant gets his way, it will be business as usual in Washington and Jackson. There will be no reforms and the Senate will be another battlefield to stop Trump’s agenda. And that’s not what Phil Bryant, the “Tea Party governor” ran on in 2011. Instead of practicing statesmanship, he stabbed a trusted friend, and the people of Mississippi, in the back … and all to win a lucrative job when his “public service” is done.
As Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar exclaimed, “The Ides of March are come!” But let us “Remember Mississippi!!”