Hyde-Smith’s stumble doesn’t help McDaniel

Published 9:55 pm Wednesday, May 2, 2018

About 333 years before the birth of Christ, historians believe Alexander the Great marched his troops into the Phrygian capital of Gordium in what is today known as Turkey.

As the legend goes, Alexander soon encountered an ancient wagon with its yoke tied intractably by several ropes in multiple knots tied in such an entangled fashion that it appeared impossible to loosen them.

Phrygian oracles held that the wagon had once belonged to Gordius, the father of King Midas, and that any man who could untie the ponderous knots would become the ruler of all of Asia.

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Alexander struggled unsuccessfully in untying or loosening the knot. Eventually, in anger he declared that “it made no difference how the knots were loosed” and drew his sword, slicing through the knot in one mighty lunge.

The prophecy seemed fulfilled as Alexander soon took control of Egypt and much of Asia before his death at the age of 32 in Babylon.

What does that little jaunt through ancient history have to do with the 2018 Senate race in Mississippi?

U.S Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, after an unusually smooth transition from her former post as the state’s elected Republican commissioner of agriculture and commerce to her new post as the first woman in history to represent Mississippi in the U.S. Senate, stumbled last week.

In a fundraising letter, Hyde-Smith told state voters: “I’m facing a crowded campaign with both Democrats and Republicans. But, unlike my opponents, I don’t have the backing of deep-pocketed special interest groups like most candidates running for Senate … I have the support of President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, but the support I need most is YOURS.”

Trouble is, neither Trump nor Pence have formally endorsed Hyde-Smith’s candidacy. Tea Party favorite and GOP state Sen. Chris McDaniel quickly jumped on the gaffe as evidence that the Republican “establishment” was attempting to dupe state voters.

“Just another day in the D.C. swamp,” said a McDaniel campaign staffer. For Hyde-Smith’s part, the campaign letter mistake was written off as a “drafting error.” Regardless, the bobbled letter gave some much-needed political oxygen to a McDaniel campaign that was flailing without the millions in super PAC funds that buoyed the Ellisville trial lawyer’s 2014 campaign.

But give the McDaniel campaign their due. In challenging the mistake in the Hyde-Smith letter, they raise one of the central questions in this race — who will get the support of Donald Trump and how much does that support matter?

Look at neighboring Alabama. In that state, the candidate Trump backed in the GOP primary — Luther Strange — lost to Judge Roy Moore. In the general election, the candidate Trump backed — Moore — lost to Democrat Doug Jones.

So McDaniel’s political Gordian Knot is rather tight. If he continues as he has this week to make the support of Donald Trump the benchmark for success in his Senate campaign, he’s one Trump endorsement of Hyde-Smith away from significantly stalled momentum.

And while forecasting what Trump will or won’t do is nearly impossible, it’s clear that there is a track record to follow. Hyde-Smith co-chaired the Trump campaign’s national Agriculture Advisory Committee. She was invited to White House meetings with Trump’s U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue and Pence on agriculture and tax reform issues.

As Mississippi’s successor to Thad Cochran, Hyde-Smith has already voted to support the Trump White House, most recently on a Senate rules change to move the president’s judicial nominees along.

In the 2016 presidential race, McDaniel was late to the party in supporting Trump after going all in to back Texas U.S Sen. Ted Cruz. Untying himself from his past Trump opposition — already solidly documented by Republican Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker — is a political knot that would have given Alexander pause.

That, and the millions upon millions in super PAC money that financed McDaniel’s 2014 campaign that just isn’t there for him in 2018.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.