POLITICS

Mitch McConnell At Odds With Party Over Income Tax In Fiscal Cliff Talks

01/01/2013 04:55 pm ET | Updated Jan 01, 2013

Even though House Republicans ended up reluctantly supporting the Senate deal, resentment in the Tea Party (and among conservatives generally) over the Senate tax deal was bad news for Sen. Mitch McConnell, who wanted to be Henry Clay but who risked having feet of clay.

McConnell, who faces a reelection contest in Kentucky next year, evidently calculated that, for the good of the country, his Republican Party and his own chances of winning another term, that it would be a good idea to broker a deal containing an income tax on the rich. He had taken steps to protect his own right flank in Kentucky by hiring Sen. Rand Paul's campaign manager as his own.

McConnell's fiscal cliff decision at first glance looked shrewd and even, dare I say it, courageous. The senator has a portrait of the revered Kentuckian Clay -- the Great Compromiser -- in his office, and he (not unreasonably) would like to be seen as a constructive, statesmanly figure of national scope.

But he risked miscalculating the almost suicidal opposition of the new, younger rank-and-file GOP to tax increases of any kind, especially the iconic income rates cut by former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. The Tea Party would rather, in general, bring the global economy to a halt than cut a deal. Though in the end it caved to Wall Street, the GOP establishment and overall public opinion.

The Tea Party doesn't think it is in DC to "legislate" but to remonstrate. And to Tea Partiers, a "Great Compromiser" is the worst thing you can be.

McConnell's nemesis and fellow Kentucky Republican, Paul, was one of only a handful of GOPers to vote "no" last night.

No Clay he, and he doesn't want to be.

Whether McConnell's championing of the tax deal will cost him in Kentucky isn't clear -- yet. There is no immediately obvious candidate to challenge him from the right in a GOP primary. But if national conservative groups see him as weak or a traitor -- and some are already talking that way -- there could be national money on the table to fund a bid.

And two years ago no one thought that anyone could beat McConnell's handpicked choice for the Kentucky Senate seat being vacated by Jim Bunning. Well, Paul came out of nowhere and did just that.

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