Tea party leader Mark Mayfield suicide: A sign of politics 'beyond the pale'?

Mississippi tea party leader Mark Mayfield died, apparently in a suicide, after being charged in a scheme to photograph Sen. Thad Cochran’s wife in a nursing home.

Rogelio V. Solis/AP
Mark Mayfield, right, and attorney John Reeves, left, listen as Mayfield's attorney Merrida Coxwell speaks in Madison, Miss., city court. Mayfield was charged with conspiring to take photos of Sen. Thad Cochran's wife inside a nursing home.

Mark Mayfield, a respected lawyer and tea party operative in Mississippi, has died after being accused of taking part in an unseemly, Watergate-like conspiracy to undermine long-time Sen. Thad Cochran’s campaign.

No foul play is suspected around the self-inflicted gunshot wound, local police said. Mr. Mayfield left a note behind, but authorities have not released it.

A tea party group board member, Mayfield had worked to get Sen. Cochran’s challenger Chris McDaniel elected. On Tuesday, Cochran narrowly won the primary. Mr. McDaniel has denied involvement, and has not been implicated in the scheme to photograph Cochran's wife at a nursing home. 

For many Mississippians, the death came as a tragic coda to a bitter primary fight that pitted mainstream Republicans against the party’s highly mobilized tea party flank. It also underscored the high personal stakes of dirty campaigning, as some of Mayfield’s friends alleged he was the victim of over-the-top character assassination by fellow Republicans.

Mr. Mayfield was charged on May 22 with conspiring with three other men to take a photo of Sen. Thad Cochran’s wife, Rose, who is in a nursing home. The photo was used briefly as part of an anti-Cochran ad. Mayfield didn’t take the photo, but allegedly used knowledge of the facility to help a blogger gain access.

Police charged all four with conspiracy to photograph someone without their permission on private property, a felony. In his 50s, Mayfield had by all accounts had a distinguished career as a lawyer and a political gadfly whose name became synonymous with efforts to get tea party candidates elected. A felony conviction would likely have been disastrous for his career and reputation.

The arrest stunned Mayfield, who shut down his Facebook account and seemed openly devastated by what had happened, especially after a large number of police officers carried out the arrest. The news took an immediate toll, writes the Jackson Clarion-Ledger’s Sam Hall.

“Mayfield remained locked in a world of uncertainty and fear,” Mr. Hall writes. “The day after his arrest, he started losing clients, including three banks that were large clients … The ordeal destroyed him.”

Emotion was raw after Mayfield’s death.

An aide to McDaniel accused mainstream Republicans of politicizing the nursing home scandal to build sympathy for Cochran, at Mayfield’s expense.

“The politicization of the incident was beyond the pale,” McDaniel aide Keith Plunkett tells Politico.

One of Mayfield’s friends, Pat Bruce of the Madison County Conservative Coalition, told the Clarion-Ledger’s Hall that Cochran attack ads showing Mayfield’s face as an alleged conspirator in the scandal played a role in Mayfield’s ultimate decision.

“That was too much, too personal of an attack on those individuals who remain innocent until proven guilty,” Mr. Bruce told the paper. “Mark’s death just kind of puts an exclamation point on how out of control this has all gotten.”

“Nobody should have died over this,” Mississippi tea party leader Grant Sowell, a Mayfield friend, told the AP. “It’s just an election.”

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.