FRANKFORT — The 2014 U.S. Senate election is 15 months away, but many people in addition to Jesse Benton may be holding their noses before it’s over.
I’m talking about more than just the avalanche of negative advertising we’ll endure. By now you’ve heard about the recording on which Benton, Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager, said he was “sort of holding my nose for two years because what we’re doing here will be a benefit to Rand (Paul) in ’16.”
Benton managed Rand Paul’s 2010 general election campaign; he’s married to Paul’s niece. He worked for her grandfather, Ron Paul; he’s a member of the family.
That’s why McConnell hired him, hoping to appropriate the Paul imprimatur to attract tea party Republicans to his cause despite a record of Washington deal making which is anathema to most of them. It hasn’t entirely worked. Some Kentucky tea party groups actively encouraged the primary challenge to McConnell by Matt Bevin.
It’s not a one-sided bargain. Paul needs McConnell’s help to perform on the Senate’s grand stage, develop national stature, to gain access to big Republican donors and to acquire an image of acceptability with mainstream national Republicans in preparation for a 2016 run for president. That’s what Benton meant by saying his job with McConnell benefits Paul in 2016.
Democrats and Bevin’s supporters are giddy about the recording and the press is focused on the embarrassment it causes McConnell and what it says about his standing with tea party groups. (As of Friday, McConnell was holding his own nose, keeping Benton on board.)
It all seems to validate what McConnell detractors believe — and what Bevin and Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes say — that McConnell cares only about McConnell, that hiring Benton was nothing more than pure political calculation and McConnell is just a political mercenary.