Chris McDaniel knows that he’s controversial

Published: Aug. 3, 2023 at 6:46 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Chris McDaniel is a man who needs no introduction.

During his career in Mississippi politics, the state senator has found fans and controversy alike; a list of those controversies being listed on his Wikipedia page, which also labels the 52-year-old lawyer as “far-right.”

Though beginning his political career in 2008, McDaniel shot to both local and national prominence during his 2014 U.S. Senate run against Senator Thad Cochran. The race was mired in scandal and was described as both “wild” and “extraordinary” by The New York Times.

The race took a bizarre/insidious turn when a scheme was hatched by multiple McDaniel supporters to sneak into the nursing home of Thad Cochran’s wife and photograph her in a bid to support allegations of Cochran’s infidelity. Those involved were ultimately arrested, with an attorney implicated in the plan committing suicide.

McDaniel has always maintained that he knew nothing or had any involvement in the scheme.

However, regrets of that race, McDaniel admits, still follow him to this day, and continue to be used as weapons against him by political rivals; most recently by Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann, who McDaniel is hoping to unseat in the August primary.

Although viewed as one of, if not the, most divisive figure in state politics today, controversy has been good for McDaniel - at least on social media. On Facebook he has more than ten-times the number of followers than Hosemann, and around 50,000 more followers than Gov. Tate Reeves.

In an interview with WLBT News, McDaniel discussed why he doesn’t view himself as “far-right” (at least not in the way Wikipedia defines it), what he would change about his infamous race against Thad Cochran, and why he thinks he’s considered so controversial.

The interview has been edited for both length and clarity.

WLBT News: Your Wikipedia page describes you as “far-right.” Is that an accurate description?

Chris McDaniel: Not as far as what Wikipedia denotes. “Far-right” would connote or imply an authoritarian concept. I’m not authoritarian at all. When you think about authoritarian figures throughout history, you talk about far-right European movements. That’s not what this is at all. I reject authoritarianism. I think it’s wrong. What I empower are individuals, not government. Most far-right ideologies, particularly in Europe, empower government. That’s supposed to be the individual.

So I’m far-right perhaps in the American sense of the word, but the way Wikipedia construes it, it makes it sound like I have a far-right tendency to be authoritarian. That’s not who I am. It used to be a mainstream Republican principle to have balanced budgets. Now they say that’s far-right. It used to be a mainstream conservative principle to protect individual liberty. Now they say that’s far-right.

WLBT: This is your third attempt at higher office in Mississippi, the first two being your runs for U.S. Senate. Why, in your view, were the past two attempts unsuccessful?

McDaniel: I’m glad you got that right. People keep saying I’ve lost three times. I’ve only lost twice. [Laughs.]

The first one we felt really good about. You might recall that I had no chance to win that race in ‘14. Thad Cochran is an incredibly important Mississippian. I mean, goodness gracious, I can’t say enough good things about Thad Cochran. He did wonders for our state. When I first thought about running, it wasn’t about Thad. I just thought we needed a more conservative movement nationally. But you can’t take away what he did for Mississippi. He’s an amazing man, an amazing individual, did tremendous things.

So when I first thought about running, we polled that race. It was as one-sided as a race can get. But we believed strongly in our principles. And so we fought and we narrowed the scope, and we ended up winning in the first night [but] didn’t get 50 plus-one. Got into a run-off and lost a close race for matters we can’t control. In many ways, in my mind, that was a success. Granted, it was a loss and losses always hurt you and you always prefer to win. But to fight the way we did and come back from so far, because we really had no reasonable chance to win that race, I count that as a success.

[20]18, we were doing pretty well and then Donald Trump, for reasons I can’t explain, endorsed Senator Hyde-Smith, which, again, she’s a good person and no hard feelings there, we just disagreed some politically. But I think she’s a really good person. And when [Trump] did that, the race was effectively ended. There’s just no way around that. I like Donald Trump, but when he flew down to Memphis and endorsed [Hyde-Smith], that race was over.

[In this race we are] running a similar campaign in some respects. We’re still the same conservatives, we still believe in the same things we’ve always believed in. But we’ve tried to be a bit kinder, a bit nicer, to understand different viewpoints as much as possible. I don’t like the negativity of campaigns. I don’t like the vile and the finger pointing and the whisper campaigns. I wish that were not the case. But it is. And that’s one reason I’ve tried to get [Delbert Hosemann] to debate me so many times. He simply will not debate. I think if he did debate, we could have it fairly and freely. And I have nothing to hide. He could ask questions and I could ask questions, but he’s not going to debate. So that’s frustrating.

Chris McDaniel announces his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 2014 - pitting him against Sen....
Chris McDaniel announces his candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 2014 - pitting him against Sen. Thad Cochran.(The Associated Press)

WLBT: Why do you believe that all of your political races, at some point, are eventually labelled “nasty”?

McDaniel: If you’ve watched the last several presidential cycles, it’s gotten really crazy. I don’t think it’s my races. I think the system is so polarized that when people stand for core conservative principles, it creates a lot of dissension. And I understand that. I was always told to fight for what you believe in even when it hurts, and that does create dissension.

I think the reason Delbert has been so nasty, and will get much more nasty, is that he’s scared. He’s scared of losing his power. And remember, when you’re running for a seat that doesn’t possess a lot of power, you never see any give-and-take. But a seat that possesses a lot of power, especially when an incumbent holds it, the incumbent gets really angry, and he uses the power of that seat to strike. And that’s why you sense a nastiness. I ran against a U.S. senator, right? That’s a very powerful position. Very powerful people with a lot of powerful interests. They’re gonna fight to defend their interests and that’s why it gets so nasty. I’ve never seen a coroner’s race get nasty, you know? Because people there don’t have as much of a vested interest, even though those are really important positions. The whole country is now watching with a baked interest.

You run for a bigger seat and you’re trying to take away the advantage of an incumbent, they always get mad and they always get nasty. I don’t think that’s me. I realize I get blamed for it. But, my goodness, I’ve been giving the same speeches for 16 years. I try to keep the issues the issues. I never called him a name. I never said he was a pathological liar like he called me. He did those things, and it’s okay, but he needs to be held accountable for it. And then he responds by saying I’m just a liar. Okay, debate me and we’ll figure it out. How easy would it be to defeat me in our debate if I was as bad as he claimed I was? He could stand up there on that stage in front of all these people and really rip me to pieces, but he won’t.

And I want to be clear: I don’t dislike him. I think that’s another thing people don’t understand. There’s never a moment in my life where I dislike Delbert Hosemann, or I want him to be harmed or have bad thoughts about him. I’m just fighting for what I believe in. It’s just what I’m supposed to do. And I wish him nothing but the best. I want to prevail. I want to win. But win or lose, I still wish him nothing but the best.

WLBT: Do you have any regrets about the way your race against Thad Cochran ended?

McDaniel: Always. I think the regret was there was so much anger on both sides. It created a really nasty environment. And the part about it that always bothered me is people don’t understand how much I really respected and admired Thad Cochran. When you grew up in Mississippi, and you watched politics, he was like this quintessential gentleman. He was kind, he was soft spoken, he played the piano, and never got into a yelling match. I really respected that. I thought he was a well-mannered gentleman of the South. To this day, I think he’s the kind of person we should emulate, at least in our ability to communicate. I wanted to run only because I felt that the U.S. Senate had moved too far to the Left and I thought that he was part of an old school mentality where pork was more important than the principles. Didn’t take away from what he did. What he did was amazing. But I thought the principles needed to be defended at that moment in history.

The race got very intense. Very, very competitive. And I think there were missteps on both sides. I regret that. I wish there was a way for the candidate to control all the people involved. But it’s impossible. We had some people that were trying to help but [who] just made some really foolish mistakes. I regret that. I wish there was something I could have done, but there’s just no way to control that mass amount of people doing all those things and all that high energy on both sides.

I wish I could have talked to Thad a little bit more before he passed. I wish I could have told him how much I appreciated him and loved him. But, you know, he passed away not too far after that. I wish there had been more closure there because I really respected him.

Supporters of Sen. Chris McDaniel wave their signs at the Neshoba County Fair.
Supporters of Sen. Chris McDaniel wave their signs at the Neshoba County Fair.(Rogelio V. Solis | AP)

WLBT: A lot has been made this election cycle regarding abortion. This started when you claimed that Delbert Hosemann once worked at an abortion clinic. The physician who directed the women’s clinic at the time says that Hosemann did not work there during the period that abortions were being performed at the clinic. Why do you keep asserting that he did?

McDaniel: Well, because the data shows that he did. First of all, his only witness that seems to exculpate his activity is the abortion doctor himself. Now, in fairness, I don’t consider abortion doctors to be credible witnesses. I just don’t. If you’re going to kill babies for a living, there’s something about your heart that I’m gonna second-guess. That’s my opinion. But [Hosemann] was caught in a lie as well. Remember, the abortion doctor issued that memo back a few years ago. In that memo, he hammered home the point that Delbert Hosemann did not serve past the year 1981. Well, what do you know? We have a document that shows he served until 1989; eight years later. So the abortion doctor, their only witness, lied about that. If he’ll lie about that, he’ll lie about a lot.

WLBT: So, do you believe that Hosemann, a practicing Catholic who has been endorsed by the Mississippi Right to Life, is pro-choice?

McDaniel: I don’t know. It’s complicated. I’ll tell you why. We know for a fact that he was the lawyer and the vice president of that clinic. And the doctor says they didn’t perform abortions until ‘81. But they provided contraception, did they not? And a core Catholic belief is not to use contraception, is it not? So he wasn’t following his Catholic beliefs there. I don’t know why he would have a problem abandoning them now.

So look, I don’t want to judge the man’s heart. That’s not who I am. We all fall short of the glory of God, we’re all sinners. Do I believe he’s pro-life? I would have a hard time believing it fully because I know for a fact he was the vice president of an abortion clinic. So that causes me some heartburns. I would never do it because I’m fundamentally opposed to that type of behavior. So I never would have done it now. I’m not going to judge his heart. That’s between him and God.

WLBT: On Facebook, you have more than ten-times the number of followers than your opponent, Delbert Hosemann. Why do you believe you have such a large presence on social media?

McDaniel: I think it’s because I’m real. I know sometimes that I can be an acquired taste. I realize sometimes that I can be bombastic. I don’t mean to be. When people see those posts on my Facebook - that’s me. That’s not a staffer. It’s not someone I’ve hired. Those things are me doing the best I can to articulate the things that I see and the way I feel about the issues. I think people sense that.

All the speeches I’ve given over the last 16 to 20 years, if you go back and hear, it’s the same things. I haven’t changed. I’m consistent because I’m grounded in those core conservative principles.

And two, I think they understand I don’t dislike a dissension. I think dissension and debate is an incredibly important part of our society. I don’t want to crush dissension - as long as it’s fair. I’m not gonna let you come into my house and yell at me and scream at me and cuss at me. But as long as you’re making an argument, you can stick around. I think people sense that and they have joined my page for a conversation.

Chris McDaniel says that the reason for his 300,000 Facebook followers is because he's "real."...
Chris McDaniel says that the reason for his 300,000 Facebook followers is because he's "real." "I think people sense that," he says. (WLBT)

WLBT: Do you consider yourself a controversial figure?

McDaniel: I think so. I don’t want to be. It certainly isn’t my nature. That’s not the way I was born, not the way I was raised. But I think society has moved so quickly, culturally and from the role of government, to the Left that, by definition, I have become controversial. If I’m standing in the same spot that Reagan stood, and I’m fighting for the same principles that Reagan fought for, but culture and government shifted far to the Left, then I guess that puts me somewhat outside of the mainstream, even though I’m just defending those core principles of Americana and that makes me controversial.

Conservatives want people to succeed and we don’t want them trapped in a system. Government cannot give you anything but a menial existence. Only Capitalism and upper-mobility can save you. That’s what we’re trying to do.

But is that controversial in this environment? Unfortunately, so.

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