(Page 2 of 2)
The Benton nose-holding scandal arose as a byproduct of another scandal that’s gotten far less national attention: accusations that in 2012 people close to the Ron Paul campaign paid off Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson to publicly abandon his support for Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann’s presidential run. Sorenson had previously been accused of being paid to support Bachmann, which would violate Iowa Senate ethics rules, and he is now the subject of an ongoing ethics investigation over that. A writer in the Des Moines Register has tried to weigh down the Paul-connected current state party leadership with accusations of perfidy against Sorenson.
Sorenson did defect from Bachmann to Paul in January 2012, shortly before the Iowa caucus vote. Iowa sources both within and without the Paul campaign told me that the move was doubly, perhaps triply, unfortunate: Sorenson’s word didn’t carry that much vote-swaying weight, many Iowans found such machinations distasteful (even when they didn’t know money might have changed hands), and in the end by dinging Bachmann, to the extent the defection added to a general sense of “let’s jump ship” from her, the defection might well have elevated the previously nowheresville Rick Santorum who ended up beating Paul in the beauty contest vote (though Paul won the Iowa delegation at the end of the caucus process).
How the Sorenson revelations will play out locally is uncertain. Sorenson and Fusaro both say they are certain Ron Paul himself thought he was telling the truth when he said that there had been no payoff to Sorenson. Sources within the Iowa liberty movement see the Iowa Republican, where most of these stories were leaked, as deliberately opposed to the Pauls and their allies. The Iowa Republican worries not so much that this scandal (which Rachel Maddow has been hitting hard) may besmirch the Paul machine as it might besmirch Iowa’s reputation as a fair and trustworthy broker of early presidential aspirants. But longtime Paul campaign watchers in Iowa are convinced none of this will harm the solid position Rand Paul holds in Iowa.
Gaffes and political operative machinations fascinate the media whose job is to follow this stuff obsessively. Voters care a lot less. Whether Mitch McConnell defeats Matt Bevin—and whether Rand Paul gains or loses from his alliance with McConnell—will have a lot more to do with voters' impressions of their positions and effectiveness than the backgrounds or shenanigans of operatives surrounding them.
That’s why the Rand Paul news likely to have more legs is his role as a senatorial lead in giving legislative weight to the Obama administration’s groundbreaking announcement this week that they intend to start making end runs around mandatory minimum drug sentences.
Rand Paul remains a surprisingly serious contender for national glory in 2016, and those who are said to be challenging his position in Iowa or nationally, such as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, have little that he lacks in terms of free-market conservative beliefs and record, an ability to appeal to evangelicals, and to walk a fine non-interventionist line designed to not shock or appall standard GOP primary voters while selling a less active foreign policy as sensible, constitutional, and prudent. Paul’s fundraising possibilities, says Dave Nalle, South Central regional director for the Republican Liberty Caucus, will likely exceed his father’s, thanks to the greater sense going into 2016 that donors big and small would feel “they’d be investing in something salable and not throwing good money after bad.”
Because of Paul’s demonstrated ability to lead on important issues, work with the other major party when it’s appropriate to his goals, and be an effective mover of the liberty agenda, he is unlikely to be hobbled by gaffes, past indiscretions, or even crimes on the part of operatives surrounding either him or his father’s past campaigns.