Jim Bunning’s relationship with Senate Republicans and Kentucky GOP political operatives continues to deteriorate.
Republicans have a new strategy for dealing with the wildly unpredictable Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.): keep their distance and hope he implodes.
That means little fundraising help from top Republicans in Washington, little to no engagement with the National Republican Senatorial Committee and a cold shoulder from Kentucky political strategists. And if you’re Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the NRSC chairman, no cross words about Bunning.
“The easiest way to get rid of him is not give him any money,” said one Washington-based Republican fundraiser.
Cutting off Bunning from the big money — while ignoring his outbursts on the campaign trail — may be the only hope for Republicans whose behind-the-scenes effort to force Bunning to retire have backfired. Calls for him to retire, and any recruitment of a primary challenger, will only embolden Bunning, Republicans say.
Cornyn, for his part, is treading very carefully after Bunning publicly called him a liar and threatened to sue the NRSC if he didn’t get its support. Cornyn says that all GOP Senate candidates are in a “self-help” phase at this point in the 2010 election cycle and that the NRSC is backing Bunning.
“I think it was just a product of misunderstanding,” Cornyn said. “I think the assumption was what we were doing was we were not supporting [him]. Now he understands the NRSC is supporting our incumbents, including him.”
But Bunning’s recent threat to resign if Republicans didn’t help him with his reelection bid didn’t help his cause. Republicans in Washington and Kentucky are less eager than ever to help his run for a third term in 2010, saying they hope his campaign dies naturally from lack of money.
“This will not help with fundraising,” said one Kentucky GOP operative, who, like others interviewed for this story, requested anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue candidly. “It will just confirm what most people already believe: This guy has basically lost it and is irrationally lashing out at those who should be his allies.”
Kentucky and national Republicans are more or less openly trying to toss Bunning over the side. His threat to resign from the Senate and potentially hand over his seat to a Democrat and give Harry Reid a filibuster-proof supermajority may well have been the last straw. The strategy here is correct — Bunning has to make the decision to quit by himself, it can’t be imposed on him. But it forces Republicans to keep quiet and spend little or no time raising money or scouting for a replacement candidate.