How Tea Partiers Flipped The Script On ‘Race-Baiting’


Tea party conservatives supporting state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-MS) have been accusing establishment Republicans supporting Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) of “race-baiting” — but they’re using that term in a different way than how it’s historically been used, as a sort of shield to try and block accusations of racism.

Since the runoff McDaniel and his supporters have argued that Cochran’s campaign won the primary mostly through getting Democrats and African-Americans to vote for him. They did that, they say, by using “race-baiting” ads, which allegedly motivated African-Americans to vote for Cochran because McDaniel is a racist.

The problem is, while this is a technically correct use of the term — which is defined as unfair statements about race — that’s not quite how the term race-baiting has usually been used. Typically, it’s been used to describe verbal attacks directed at people of a certain racial group to intimidate or otherwise undermine them.

But when Senate Conservatives Fund President Ken Cuccinelli went on MSNBC Tuesday morning, he used the term to attack establishment white Republicans for supporting a pro-Cochran super PAC that sought to get Democrats and African Americans to vote in the runoff election (and this outreach is largely credited with helping Cochran secure his win). That was race-baiting, according to Cuccinelli, who ticked off a partial list of Republican senators helping to fund the super PAC.

Or take McDaniel campaign manager Melanie Sojourner’s Facebook post shortly after the runoff describing how Cochran and his supporters used “race baiting tactics to take advantage of African-American voters all for the sake of holding onto a seat to feed their money grubbing, greedy, selfish egos.”

McDaniel, himself, used the race-baiting phrase at a press conference where he announced his formal challenge to the runoff results.

“We saw despicable acts of race-baiting. We saw despicable allegations from those that are supposed to be leaders in the Republican party,” McDaniel said. “There is no place in the Republican Party for those that would race-bait. There is no place in the Republican Party for racism of any kind and that’s exactly what we saw on these evenings and morning leading up to the 24th.”

Lately, though, discussion on race in the Mississippi Senate race has been centered around whether African Americans were involved in stealing the election for Cochran. A Tea Party Express email in early July read that Cochran “deliberately, and possibly illegally, pandered to black liberal democrats in order to steal the Republican primary election. Whose side are they on?”

The Mississippi Senate race has included accusations linking McDaniel to the Ku Klux Klan, critiques that he supported policies that would be bad for African Americans, and McDaniel having to address attending events hosted by pro-secession or neo-Confederate groups. McDaniel’s campaign didn’t choose to deny the the accusations or critiques themselves, but merely said that by raising such racially tinged issues, this counts as “race baiting.”

As Slate’s Dave Weigel pointed out in the wake of the runoff in early June, “They’re arguing, factually, that Cochran’s campaign and an outside PAC appealed to black voters by pointing out what he’d done for them (in fiscal terms) and by accusing ‘the Tea Party’ of trying to block their votes. Oh, sure, the Tea Party has spent the postgame trying to literally cancel out the votes of black Democrats, but that’s not the point.”

McDaniel’s team has tried to walk a very narrow line on this. A press release from the McDaniel campaign reportedly originally blamed “black Democrats” for Cochran’s win. That line was struck and replaced with just “Democrats.” The McDaniel campaign, when finally reached for comment, didn’t exactly deny the content of the original draft and instead accused the Cochran campaign of once again engaging in “dirty tactics.”