Last year, Republican operative Jesse Benton was asked his role as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) campaign manager. Benton, whose remarks were being recorded without his knowledge, said, “I’m sort of holdin’ my nose for two years” in order to help Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) presidential campaign in 2016.
It was an embarrassing moment for McConnell, as the public learned that even his own campaign manager doesn’t like him. Twenty months later, however, it’s apparently no longer an issue: Benton waited until late Friday afternoon on a holiday weekend to announce his resignation. As we talked about on Saturday, the move is the result of a growing bribery scandal.
Jesse Benton resigned as Sen. Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager Friday following reports that he had emerged as a figure in an endorsement scandal during the 2012 Iowa presidential caucus. […]He said that he resigned to avoid becoming a distraction to McConnell’s re-election campaign, saying the “election is far too important and the stakes way too high.”
In the same written statement, Benton included a Scriptural reference: “James 16:33. ‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’”
It was another unfortunate error: the Book of James has no 16th chapter. The Republican operative meant to quote the Book of John.
Regardless, there a few key angles to this story, which are likely to reverberate for the rest of this election cycle and into the next.
Let’s start with the bribery scandal that has forced Benton’s departure.
As we discussed over the weekend, the controversy started in the 2012 Republican presidential caucuses in Iowa. State Sen. Kent Sorenson (R), the chair of Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign in Iowa, announced just six days before the caucuses that he was quitting Team Bachmann to support Ron Paul’s presidential campaign.
We recently learned that the Ron Paul campaign paid Sorenson a $73,000 bribe to switch teams. Following a federal investigation into the incident, Sorenson pleaded guilty to two criminal counts associated with the bribe and the lies told to cover it up.
But the broader effects of the scandal didn’t end with Sorenson’s guilty plea. We know who received the bribe, but there’s the unresolved matter of who paid the bribe.
When Benton “emerged as a figure” in the controversy, he quit McConnell’s campaign, though he continues to insist he’s done nothing wrong.
In the short term, how does this affect Team McConnell? It’s never good news when a senator in a tough race loses his campaign manager nine weeks before Election Day, though by all appearances, the Kentucky Republican’s operation is already established.
That said, if voters are inclined to believe that McConnell is part of a rotten political system in need of change, developments like these won’t help. Indeed, even though there’s no connection between the senator and the Iowa bribery scandal, when the NBC affiliated in Louisville called McConnell’s spokesperson on Friday for comment about Benton, the campaign literally hung up on the reporter.
Looking ahead, the impact on Paul World is likely to be even greater. Benton, who’s married to one of Ron Paul’s granddaughters, helped leader Rand Paul’s 2010 Senate campaign, led Ron Paul’s Iowa operation in 2012, and was expected to play a very prominent role in Rand Paul’s national campaign in 2016.
As for Benton himself, we don’t yet know exactly what role, if any, he played in the bribery scandal. That said, we know the Ron Paul campaign paid bribes to at least one Iowa politician, Benton was the Ron Paul campaign’s political director at the time, and there are emails that indicate Benton “was involved in efforts to get [Sorenson] to defect from the Bachmann campaign” in early 2012.
From Thursday’s show: