Jesse Benton, former campaign manager to Rand Paul’s 2010 US Senate race and political director for Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential run, has resigned as the senior vice president of the Campaign for Liberty, the non-profit advocacy organization that grew out of Ron Paul’s 2008 presidential run in order to become the reelection campaign manager of Republican Senate leader and Kentucky senior senator Mitch McConnell.
Benton is a controversial figure in the Paul political orbit for what many supporters believed was a “selling out” of the undiluted Ron Paul message in order to be more acceptable to the Republican Party establishment. Transitioning from the Pauls to McConnell is taken as a sign that Benton’s involvement was only a means of promotion.
Explaining his position in an interview with BusinessInsider.com, Benton said:
“Where I believe I can make a difference is to help bring the voice of the Liberty Movement and the voice of the Tea Party into a governing coalition. Some people want to work outside of the system . . . what I want to do is try to work with people who want to take our ideas seriously. I want to try to get as many of our ideas as I can included in the solution.”
Rand Paul’s 2010 victory followed one of the closest contests McConnell faced when the then-senate minority whip won by only six points over Democratic businessman Bruce Lunsford. Even though Paul never mentioned McConnell by name in his numerous denunciations of the Republican Party’s leadership, his victory was an unmistakable rebuke of the Bluegrass State’s most prestigious lawmaker.
While Paul and McConnell’s relationship has been testy after McConnell supported and fundraised for Paul’s primary opponent, today it is mutually reinforcing. Each represents his own position within the party and each has a reason to help the other.
Although McConnell is unlikely to face a primary challenger in 2014, he understands that he is not as invulnerable as he appeared to be before 2008. So, the endorsement from Rand Paul and the addition of former Paul staffer Jesse Benton protects McConnell from such a threat and keeps the Kentucky GOP united.
On the other hand, while Paul has upset many in the Liberty Movement by occasionally compromising with the establishment, particularly with his endorsement of Mitt Romney, many party leaders don’t trust their junior senator. In an appearance on Bloggingheads.tv, University of Kentucky professor Robert Farley described the antagonism between Rand Paul and the Republican establishment:
“Rand is not popular with the Republican machine . . . he’s not in good with the McConnell machine. If they see that he might lose they might run somebody against him in the primary.”
It may be stretching the metaphor, but Benton’s move to McConnell is similar to the practice of monarchs strategically intermarrying to prevent conflicts.
Following the War of the Roses, Henry Tudor, father of Henry VIII, possessed a tenuous blood claim to the throne of England, but through his strategic marriage to Elizabeth of York he consolidated the ongoing feud between the Yorks and Lancasters, thus establishing the house of Tudor as England’s sovereign. Benton is literally family – he is married to Ron Paul’s granddaughter – and teaming up with McConnell is a symbolic link that the two sides are working together.
Rand Paul’s intraparty strategy has received mixed reviews within the universe of Paul supporters. Some see it as selling out. Others realize that it is a long-term political strategy that is not ideal, but perhaps is the best vehicle to move the liberty agenda forward.
One thing that is undeniable is that the Liberty Movement has succeeded at moving into the Republican Party. Regardless of what one might think of the intraparty strategy, it has contributed to making Rand Paul a politico whose constituency is strong enough to warrant the nation’s highest elected Republican sending out a rope to bridge them together.