Tea party scandal: The case of the bedridden wife

     This Feb. 4, 2014 file photo shows Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss, center, speaking during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Cochran is flanked by Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., left, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo, file)

    This Feb. 4, 2014 file photo shows Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss, center, speaking during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. Cochran is flanked by Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., left, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo, file)

    If we had a dime for every time someone in politics plays a dirty trick, we’d all be living large.

    Nevertheless, a particularly filthy maneuver should warrant our attention. Case in point: the odious doozy that’s debasing a hot Senate race.

    We take you now to Mississippi, where tea-partying extremists are waging an uncivil war against six-term Republican Senator Thad Cochran. They don’t like the fact that he has served 36 years. They don’t think he’s conservative enough, in part because he had the temerity to get money from Washington after Hurricane Katrina savaged the coastline. They’re desperately trying to whack him in a June GOP primary, and replace him with Chris McDaniel, a tea-partyer who’s so hostile to government that he has actually promised voters (this quote is real), “I’m not going to do anything for you.”

    The fighting has been uncommonly fierce because Mississippi is the tea party’s last stand – having already failed this spring to knock off establishment Republican candidates in North Carolina, Georgia, and Kentucky. Which perhaps explains why the animus against Cochran has become so…shall we say…personal.

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    Enter our sordid saga, The Case of the Bedridden Wife.

    At last count, four people have been arrested (three of them yesterday), including the vice chairman of the Mississippi Tea Party. Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a Cochran ally, has called this episode the “sickest, most disgusting thing I have ever seen in politics.” Which is quite a statement, given that this is Mississippi.

    This is what happens when extremists run wild in the digital age:

    Allies of the tea-party candidate, McDaniel, have been insinuating that Cochran had some sort of relationship with a female aide who accompanied him on work trips. Naturally, they’ve fed the innuendo to the right-wing Breibart news site, which loves to attack establishment Republicans. Meanwhile, a right-wing Mississippi blogger named Clayton Kelly decided that McDaniel needed a little extra help. Last month, armed with a camera, he went to see Cochran’s wife, Rose.

    Rose Cochran has resided in a nursing home for the past 14 years, suffering from progressive dementia.

    Kelly, proprietor of a blog called Constitutional Clayton, snuck into the nursing home and snapped a photo of bedridden Rose. He crafted an anti-Cochran video, which included his photo of Rose (perhaps to insinuate that Cochran was cheating on his helpless spouse; perhaps to show the voters that Rose and Thad are old), and he posted it online. Word got around, people got mad (including some people in the McDaniel campaign), and Kelly had to take it down. He currently resides in a cell, charged with conspiracy and exploitation of a vulnerable adult.

    I get it that the tea party is desperate for a win. But stalking a dementia patient?

    Naturally, the McDaniel campaign insists that it had no role in Rosegate (official statement: “Politics is about the exchange of ideas, and this type of action has no place in politics whatsoever”). But the campaign has given various versions of what it knew when. And it sure looks bad when the cops keep arresting McDaniel supporters. Yesterday, Constitutional Clayton Kelly was joined in the docket by three alleged co-conspirators: Mark Mayfield, the aforementioned vice chair of the Mississipi ea Party, a phys ed teacher named Richard Sager, and an ex-conservative talk show host named John Mary. All face felony conspiracy charges; three are behind bars, with bonds as high as half a million bucks.

    If not for the fact that a sick woman has been exploited – an investigator testified yesterday that Rose is not aware of her surroundings – this episode would be popcorn entertainment for spectators of Republican strife. Especially since Sen. Cochran, while rightly outraged (his kids: “We are shocked by someone trying to use our mother’s illness for political purposes”), is nevertheless exploiting the episode for his own political purposes.

    Cochran is demanding that McDaniel ‘fess up to what he supposedly knows. Cochran is even airing an ad on the scandal, lamenting that a “Chris McDaniel supporter has been charged with a felony for photographing (Rose) in a nursing home. Had enough?….Rise up against dirty politics.” To which McDaniel retorts, “It is shameful for a sitting U.S. Senator to engage in such desperate slander and lies.”

    On second thought, this is jumbo-popcorn entertainment – a classic example of what can happen when extremists get into the game. With 11 days still on the clock, it can only get juicier. And since this is Mississippi, I dearly hope John Grishman is taking notes.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


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