Mitch McConnell's Campaign Manager Says He's "Holding His Nose" Until He Can Work for Rand Paul Again

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 8 2013 1:41 PM

Mitch McConnell's Campaign Manager Says He's "Holding His Nose" Until He Can Work for Rand Paul Again

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Mitch McConnell's own (less salacious) experience with a secretly recorded campaign conversation may make him sympathetic.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It's been nearly a year since Jesse Benton, a battle-scarred veteran spokesman for Ron and Rand Paul, joined Sen. Mitch McConnell's re-election bid. At the time, libertarians and Paul fans assumed that Benton was playing a long game, not that he really breathed the same air as the majority leader. Recently, thanks to the reporting of Katrina Trinko, we know that Benton took the job on Rand's recommendation. "It’s good for you and it’s good for me," said the senator.

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David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.

But in that piece, by Trinko, Benton went a little further in his praise for his new (temporary) boss.

Back in the Nineties, when I was reading National Review in my college dorm, Mitch McConnell was the cool conservative senator. He was like the Tom Coburn back then. He had a little maverick in him, and he took strong conservative stances, and he filibustered stuff. He’s the most conservative member of the Republican leadership since the Bob Taft crew in the Fifties.

That's a respectful take, now somewhat contradicted by a conversation Benton had in January 2013. Dennis Fusaro, a seminarian and activist who was national field director of Ron Paul's 2008 campaign before being let go, called Benton to discuss more evidence he claimed to possess that would tie the Paul campaign to a donation to Iowa State Sen. Kent Sorenson, who switched from the Bachmann to Paul's at the last minute. At the end, the two men jaw about what they're working on. With very little prompting, Benton says this.

Between you and me, I'm sort of holding my nose for two years because what we're doing here is going to be a big benefit to Rand in '16.

Benton hasn't responded to questions from reporters (me included), which means he hasn't denied the story, and the voice sounds exactly like his. All he's saying, in an impolitic sort of way, is what everybody assumed he was doing anyway. A classic Kinsley gaffe -- though taped without his consent, not blurted out in public.

UPDATE: Michael Warren has a statement from Benton via the campaign:

It is truly sick that someone would record a private phone conversation I had out of kindness and use it to try to hurt me. I believe in Senator McConnell and am 100 percent committed to his re-election.

No one doubts that -- winning this will help Rand Paul 2016! And a McConnell campaign source shared with me what the senator told Benton today: "Don't let the bastards get you down." I'd imagine McConnell's experience this year with leaked audio has made him pretty hardy about this sort of story.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.