Exclusive–Conservative Sen. Candidate Chris McDaniel: GOP 'Needs to Find Its Conscience'

Exclusive–Conservative Sen. Candidate Chris McDaniel: GOP 'Needs to Find Its Conscience'

State Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-MS) told Breitbart News in an exclusive phone interview that he is running against U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) in the GOP primary next year because he sees a massive problem with the Republican Party on a national level and thinks that he can join with Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) to help fix it.

“The reason we’re running is very simple,” McDaniel said. “Sen. Cochran has not been responsive to the will of Mississipians. He has not been a conservative vote or conservative champion and for a state like Mississippi, that’s very disappointing.” 

“Now, I will point out to you, I appreciate his service and I consider him a gentleman, but in these times we have to move toward a conservative government,” he clarified. “Something must be done. And the idea of six more years of the status quo, frankly, is not a reasonable thought in my mind.”

While Cochran has not officially announced he will be running for a seventh term in the U.S. Senate, McDaniel is operating under the assumption that Cochran will run for re-election until he says he will not. “People say he hasn’t decided,” McDaniel said. “He’s been in Washington for 41 years. He’s been in the U.S. Senate for 36. He has decided until he decides he’s not running. People say, ‘Well he’s not in the race.’ Well, yes he is. He has been in the race for almost 40 years. So, absolutely he’s in the race and absolutely he’s running until he says otherwise.”

Running against Cochran, a bastion of the GOP establishment in Mississippi, is like running against former Gov. Haley Barbour, an establishment GOP figure who once served as chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), and the political machine he built. Barbour has already been pushing for Cochran and taking shots at the Tea Party’s national strategy.

Before he even announced his candidacy, McDaniel had already taken a beating from the former governor’s nephew, GOP lobbyist Henry Barbour, told Roll Call in September that McDaniel would be filleted by the establishment machine if he ran.

“I think he will get his head handed to him, and that will be what he deserves,” Henry Barbour said. “[But] it’s a free country.”

Even so, McDaniel told Breitbart News running against Barbour’s machine is “nothing personal.”

“I’ve worked with Haley when he was governor,” McDaniel told Breitbart News. “He and I worked on many instances together during his time as governor. But we do represent different visions for the Republican Party.” 

“My vision is one to restore the party to the greatness it once had, particularly with regards to its fiscal restraint and its adherence to constitutional principles. The party I believe in is the party I joined years ago when Reagan was president and I hope that party gets restored,” he explained. “But what’s it like to run against Haley? You know, it’s politics. I appreciate his positions. I appreciate his opinions. We just disagree.” 

“It’s not personal,” McDaniel continued. “I’m just going to stand my ground to fight for what I believe and I’m confident he’ll stand his ground as well to fight for what he believes.”

McDaniel has served as a state senator in Mississippi since 2008, having graduated from law school from the University of Mississippi in 1997 before clerking for U.S. District Court Judge Charles Pickering. He has been involved with the Tea Party movement since April 15, 2009, when he spoke at a tax day rally in Laurel, Mississippi. 

When asked if he thinks there is another wave of the Tea Party movement like what happened in 2010 coming next year, McDaniel said, “Yeah, I think so.” McDaniel added he thinks what is happening in the GOP nationwide right now is a party in search of its “conscience”–something the grassroots energy from the Tea Party movement can bring back to the Republican Party.

“I think people are sufficiently angry right now,” he said. “They’re starting to engage the system once again. With regards to the Tea Party issue, the Tea Party people I know are constitutionalists. They’re people that believe in a balanced budget. Those are things that obviously Republicans believe in.” 

“There’s a way we have to bridge those two wonderful groups [the Tea Party and the establishment] and allow the Tea Party to have influence over the Republican Party so that change can be made in Washington, D.C.,” McDaniel said. “That’s what we’re seeing right now. We’re seeing a party that needs to find its conscience. The Tea Party is doing a good job in raising that awareness and engaging the system and helping the Republican Party find its way back to true conservatism. I believe that’s what’s happening. 2014 is going to be an exciting time.”

“We’ve got over 1,000 volunteers already,” he said, after only announcing his candidacy on Oct. 17. “We’ve got tons of grassroots support and monetary support from across the country. We’re having, naturally, a lot of fundraisers in state. But we’re receiving an incredible amount of interest from outside of the state. We’re very organized. We’re very structured. We’re prepared to make this run and to do what we have to do to do this campaign and win the election.”

McDaniel has the support of many national organizations like the Tea Party Express, Madison Project, FreedomWorks, Club for Growth, and Senate Conservatives Fund, along with several sitting state senators, conservative leaders, and Tea Party groups throughout Mississippi. New polling data released just a couple weeks ago puts McDaniel within earshot of Cochran. The Public Policy Polling poll released in mid-November shows McDaniel trailing Cochran by just six points. Cochran cashed in at 44 points in that poll, whereas McDaniel finished with 38 percent–an incredible polling data mark for a GOP primary candidate who entered the race barely more than a month ago.

“It’s been remarkable,” McDaniel told Breitbart News of that polling data. “Right now, if the race were run now, Thad Cochran’s polling at 44 percent and we’re at 38 percent. We’ve closed a tremendous gap in just a few short weeks. Likewise, if he were to drop out of the race, we would be the frontrunner in the race right now. If you look at that polling, you’ll see a lot of the information that shows the momentum right now.”

If McDaniel is able to secure the win in the primary, he said he’s not worried about any Democratic opposition afterwards. “The fact of the matter is Mississippi is the most conservative state in the republic and it will remain so,” he said. “The idea of Mississippi sending a Democratic United States Senator to assist Barack Obama, that’s a bit unlikely.”

Asked about how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid just invoked the nuclear option, changing 225 years worth of Senate rules and procedure in order to force through Obama’s liberal nominees, McDaniel said “in some regards” it is “correct” to believe that Reid invoked it as a result of failed GOP leadership on the issue. “I think that we’ve seen the Democrats over the last 30 or 40 years become less restive,” he said. “They’ve learned how to fight the right fights, at least in their minds, and do so effectively.” 

“Republicans, on the other hand, are the party of compromise, party of surrender. That’s not the party I joined,” he stated. “The party I joined was very strong-willed and very principled. And that’s the party I hope to restore. It’s disappointing to see the Democrats push through legislation like Obamacare, for example, with no Republican support and absolutely no compromise. It’s the same thing with Harry Reid in this instance. They’re very aggressive. They fight. We ought to learn how to fight as well.”

McDaniel also said he would have stood with Sens. Cruz and Lee in their effort to defund Obamacare, rather than voting with the political establishment to allow Reid to fund Obamacare.

“If there’s a bad bill before you, you take every opportunity to destroy the bill,” McDaniel said. “You don’t pass on it when you have an opportunity. You don’t compromise when you have an opportunity. You do everything you can to defeat it.” 

“I would have stood with Sen. Lee and Sen. Cruz throughout the fight. I would have hoped my Republican colleagues would run to our side rather than play Monday morning quarterback and compromise on their principles,” he said. “At the end of the day, we have to stand and make the fight as we see fit. And that’s I fight I understood. I would have happily engaged on the floor with the Senators who stood there.”

With regard to immigration policy, McDaniel added he believes in a securing the border and enforcing the law before doing anything else.

“With regard to immigration policy, that’s a serious issue right now obviously,” McDaniel said. “I’m a strong proponent of securing the border and I’m a strong proponent of policy that enforces the law.”

The primary is in late June 2014.