Can Jesse Benton Bring Together The Paul and McConnell Wings of the GOP?


Katrina Trinko at National Review profiles former Ron and Rand Paul campaign bigwig Jesse Benton, now working for Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, and speculates about what it means for cross-GOP unity.

Some excerpts:

John Tate, president of Ron Paul's organization Campaign for Liberty, says it's possible Benton could help persuade some tea partiers to vote for McConnell. And it doesn't hurt that Rand Paul himself has endorsed McConnell. "I think there are those in the liberty movement that are willing to maybe follow Rand's lead or others' and give [McConnell] a second look," Tate, who worked closely with Benton on Ron Paul's presidential campaigns, says. But "there are those that will never give him a second look," he adds.

Benton himself argues that McConnell, who received a 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, is a serious conservative. "Back in the Nineties, when I was reading National Review in my college dorm, Mitch McConnell was the cool conservative senator," he says. "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."…

And Benton sees his work for McConnell as serving the cause: He's motivated in part by the idea of uniting the various factions in the GOP to achieve policy goals. "It's a really, really important mission to bring all Republicans and conservatives together," he says earnestly. Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell's partnership, he explains, is an example of how to do that.

"They both have tremendous cross-party appeal, but they each tend to draw their core of support from a certain wing of the party," Benton says. "When they come together and help each other with the crossover support from across the party, I think it sets an example to Republicans across the country about how it can be. We can disagree on some things, but still really work together."

Now, McConnell has made some stands that will make it easier for Rand Paul people to love him–voting for Rand's super-budget-cutting plan (five-year path to balanced, $2.3 trillion in tax cuts), joining him on hemp legalization, and audit the Fed (after being against it in 2010), some pet causes for Paul folk. This has given Paul cover for being on McConnell's side against his Tea Party primary challenger Matt Bevin.

But as this old thread from Daily Paul (Internet home of many of the hardest of Paul hardcore) reminds us, McConnell's been grim in his career on issues of Patriot Act and domestic civil liberties and hawkishness in the war on terror, bank bailouts, No Child Left Behind and Medicare expansion, and semi-automatic weapon bans.

McConnell did give support to Paul's drone filibuster, and voted this week for Paul's end-Egypt-aid bill, despite his usual rep, as Foreign Policy puts it, of being a "typically orthodox voter on foreign policy issues." He's been willing to at least say he'd consider some defense cuts. 

Benton's power to create any Paul-McConnell activist alliance is questionable–he was never a favorite of the more hardcore and Internet-noisy of Ron Paul fans. In fact, many saw him as a sellout traitor, a burden Benton bore, in my experience covering the Paul campaign for my book Ron Paul's Revolution, with a decent amount of public grace but a lot of (understandable) private annoyance, which sometimes became public.

So it's going to be down to Mitch to convince them he's on their side. And it will be difficult for them to be convinced his instincts are true-blue and reliable on liberty issues–especially if he ends up majority leader again and becomes enmeshed in the ol' political art of the possible. (For example, the switch on "audit the Fed" is easy to read as just a "who the hell cares?" gesture of "no reason to make these Paul people mad at me for something I don't think is that important anyway.") 

In this read, Rand Paul's very public ascendance will make a politician like McConnell more willing to go along with him, something that could be very important indeed for Rand's future career if McConnell is again majority leader of the Senate–it's good for a senator to have good relations with someone in that position. But again, it's likely that such leverage will come not from turning McConnell into a true believer, but turning Rand into a political force hard to ignore or oppose.