By Ryan S. Walters
Charlie Mitchell is the assistant dean, and assistant professor, of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at Ole Miss, which means, presumably, that he knows something about a journalist’s trade, though we can’t say the same about his knowledge of politics.
In his column today, Mitchell seeks to figure out Donald Trump’s appeal. This election is about discontent, he writes, and people are unhappy. But why? Because “America has become a nation of makers and takers. They and Trump are the makers. Everyone else is a leech.” These people are angry about being “forced to pay taxes to house and feed those who can’t or won’t work.”
Trump supporters don’t see him “as a genius,” he writes. “They don’t care about his position on issues…. They don’t care what he says or who he offends. He’s not an insider, and that’s all that matters.”
This strange campaign, though, is not new to Mississippi, Mitchell says, because we’ve seen this before. And by that he means with the 2014 McDaniel-Cochran battle. Like Trump, “McDaniel’s only appeal was that he wasn’t Cochran, whose only flaw was being in office.” And McDaniel, Mitchell reminds us, came mighty close to knocking off Cochran, presumably by the same barbarians at the gate.
But, of course, we need Mitchell to explain all this to us, and he does, in a highly offensive remark that proceeds to trash good, salt-of-the-earth conservatives as ignoramuses. “Americans who consider themselves aware and informed fail because they try to use logic and reason to understand Trump’s appeal,” he writes, and by Trump’s appeal he also means McDaniel’s. “They,” meaning the educated and informed in society “cannot imagine how his inarticulate, abrasive and frequently flat-out impossible positions can attract votes. They don’t see that none of that matters. His faithful believe he will reverse the skid. End of discussion.”
So the bottom line is that the presidential contest is an emotionally driven campaign by fanatical conservatives who are fueled by anger and not intelligence. The same bunch in Mississippi who fueled McDaniel.
Dean Mitchell, though, is flat-out wrong, at least about McDaniel’s campaign. Sure some of McDaniel’s supporters were powered by anger and raw emotion, as there are in every campaign. But McDaniel’s appeal wasn’t because “he wasn’t Cochran.” What drove Mississippians in mass to vote for McDaniel was principles and ideology (i.e. intelligence) as much as it was anger.
Nearly three years ago, when Senator Chris McDaniel first entered the race against the mighty Thad Cochran in October 2013, it seemed like an impossible task. The very first poll the campaign conducted, and wisely did not release, showed Ole Thad with an approval rating of 87 percent, and further revealed that a whopping 90 percent would support him, while just 10 percent would vote for McDaniel. The Mississippi press had already pronounced Cochran as “unbeatable.”
But Chris McDaniel, the small town state senator from Ellisville, against all odds, with no organization, and no money raising capability, defeated Thad Cochran on primary night, June 3, 2014. That alone is remarkable, given the fact that Cochran, throughout his more than 40 years in public office, had never lost a vote.
In the runoff election three weeks later, McDaniel won roughly 60 percent of the Republican vote and gained a Republican record 187,000 votes, a record for a Republican primary in Mississippi.
Of this Mitchell writes that had it not been for a third party candidate, McDaniel would have won the primary on June 3. True enough, but let us also not forget that had it not been for tens of thousands of illegal dollars on the street, vote-buying schemes, illegal PACs, and other plots, McDaniel wins easily on June 24.
The shenanigans aside, the McDaniel performance shatters Mitchell’s carefully crafted narrative, thus proving it was not an atmosphere of anti-incumbency that nearly sank Cochran. In fact it was just the opposite. Mississippi is not a state that throws incumbents overboard. Over the last 100 years, only four people have sat in the very seat Thad Cochran holds.
And if Mississippi is so anti-incumbent, at least in 2014, why did voters stick with Cochran that November in a landslide over Travis Childers? On this Mitchell is conspicuously silent.
The main question, then, is why did nearly 200,000 people turn against the “unbeatable” Thad Cochran? Once the McDaniel campaign, and its surrogate supporters, exposed Cochran’s liberal record on spending and debt, as well as his other questionable votes on other issues, his vast support began to melt away. That’s not the result of fear, anger, and raw emotion; it is the result of adherence to principles and voter intelligence. Many Mississippi conservatives realized that Thad Cochran no longer represented them and their interests, while McDaniel offered a true conservative alternative. Cochran showed his true liberal colors, and voters reacted against it.
So Mississippi 2014 was not the result of an anti-incumbent backlash; it was the beginning and the turning point that fueled the Trump Train and the Cruz Crew in 2016.
But the political expert Mitchell tells us not to worry, because “looking at the math, it appears that Trump will go the way of McDaniel.” He shouldn’t risk any bets on that one.
Charlie Mitchell knows nothing about the politics of our current presidential race, and even less about the McDaniel-Cochran battle two years ago. He is an “intellectual” snob, the very class of people Spiro Agnew referred to as the “nattering nabobs of negativism.”
This latest column was designed to mangle and confuse the facts about the 2014 Senate Republican primary, attempt to smear and discredit Senator McDaniel, and try to set up the field for 2019 and beyond. But that was most probably his real intention all along.