A phone conversation between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's campaign manager and a fellow conservative activist has surfaced, and it is quickly turning Jesse Benton into a household name. Benton, the current McConnell campaign manager who held the same position in 2010 under Rand Paul, was recorded on January 9 of this year by Dennis Fusaro. Benton was recorded saying, "Between you and me, I'm sorta holding my nose for two years," regarding his current position, and was later heard stating, "''Cause what we're doing here is gonna be a big benefit to Rand in '16." This is both the year when Rand Paul will be up for reelection to his Senate seat, and the year when he may try a run at the presidency. While this may be a controversy now, it won't have any effect on McConnell's reelection bid.
There could be any number of reasons why Jesse Brenton would feel this way about working for the senior senator from Kentucky. It could be that McConnell backed Trey Grayson in the Republican primary against Paul late in the 2010 race, in an effort to upset the Tea Party favorite. It could be the contempt the new wave of Republicans feels for the Old Guard types (see feuds involving Paul, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee vs. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and McConnell). It could be that Benton views Paul's endorsement of McConnell and his previous endorsement of Mitt Romney as a way to endear himself to middle-of-the-road Republicans in the 2016 presidential race, a race Paul has expressed interest in numerous times.
So let's breakdown this "scandal" one piece at a time, shall we? These comments were made in January, almost seven months to the day before this recording coming out. These comments were made by the campaign manager and not the candidate. This isn't exactly Mitch McConnell's Ricky Watters "For Who? For What?" moment. This recording comes out nine-and-a-half months before the primary, and well over a year before the general election. This "scandal" is nothing more than the 24/7 news cycle run amok.
McConnell has a war chest to the tune of $9.6 million, Super PAC support, and the support of his "frenemy" Rand Paul. An aggressive campaigner with the funding to back it up, McConnell is highly likely to defeat his primary opponent, businessman Matt Bevin. McConnell's general election foe is looking likely to be Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. Grimes has narrowly edged McConnell with two liberal-leaning pollsters, PPP and the Mellman Group. Both polls show Grimes with 45%. Kentucky went over 60% for Mitt Romney, another Republican that pundits thought hard-line Southern conservatives would back away from — and they did not. The nature of Kentucky's electorate, along with the natural advantage incumbents have when running for reelection, should secure McConnell another close victory — something he has grown accustomed to during his stay in Congress.
Fusaro, who recorded Benton's phone conversation, has gained notoriety for this practice, as he has also recorded a phone conversation regarding State Senator Kent Sorenson's (R-Iowa) decision to leave Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) presidential campaign and endorse Ron Paul, after allegedly receiving a payment for the endorsement. In the state of Kentucky only one party in the call has to consent to its taping. While this taping may be legal it is certainly immoral. In this case it is clear Benton and Fusaro know each other, and despite Fusaro's past, Benton foolishly trusted him. In this age of smartphones, drones, and surveillance, this is liable to happen to anybody. The words of Boston political boss Martin Lomasney have never been truer: “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.”