By: Scott Jennings
This column originally appeared in the Courier-Journal on October 29, 2014.
“You must support my likely opponent!” he said, chuckling.
“No sir, I’m a Republican and I am for you,” I said.
“A Republican from Dawson Springs? Now I’ve seen it all,” he said, bemused and probably wondering if I was full of it.
It was 1995. I was 17 years old, a high school kid decamped to Northern Kentucky University for a summer leadership program. And that’s the first time I met Mitch McConnell, who was there to visit his daughter. McConnell would soon face my fellow Dawsonian Steve Beshear in his 1996 U.S. Senate race.
Just over a year later, I found myself stuffing envelopes in McConnell’s campaign headquarters. He sent me a personal note of thanks after his successful campaign, which I still have. In 2002, I served as McConnell’s political director during his romp over Lois Weinberg. Six years after that I was on the road again as senior advisor to his 2008 campaign against Bruce Lunsford, a difficult slog during a volatile time for our nation.
This time I am on the outside, advising a “Super PAC” that supports McConnell but unable to talk to him for almost two years because of anti-coordination rules that govern communications between campaigns and independent expenditure groups.
I have observed this campaign as closely as anyone, which includes watching McConnell’s opponent say outrageously dishonest things that make people question her character. Most candidates don’t stare into a camera and blatantly lie the way Alison Grimes has about McConnell and his wife, former U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. Usually they leave it to a narrator, but Grimes carries the deceitful freight herself, claiming that McConnell and Chao take bribes from a “New York anti-coal billionaire.” It’s an unserious allegation that reeks of desperation, rivaled in its cravenness only by Grimes’s claims that McConnell somehow became rich because of actions taken as a U.S. Senator.
The truth? McConnell’s wife inherited a considerable sum when her mother died. Perhaps Grimes feels self-conscious that her own wealthy lifestyle was financed on the backs of her father’s minimum wage workers, some of whom, according to CNN, make $2.13 per hour (the legal minimum wage for tip-earning restaurant workers). After all, Grimes was the lawyer for the low-wage business.
I can’t tell if Grimes is more Ron Burgundy, haplessly reading bogus lines from a teleprompter (“…anything you put on that prompter, Burgundy will read!”), or Hillary Clinton, who once laughably claimed to have personally evaded sniper fire on a trip to Bosnia (she later admitted to “misspeaking” about the incident). No wonder Grimes’s own image has gone underwater.
Either way, the unusual amount of dishonesty from Grimes suggests a person lacking confidence in her own arguments for election, devoid of the experience to know when campaign handlers are asking her to go too far. This sort of mendacity, for which the Washington Post’s fact checker said Grimes ought to be “ashamed of herself,”will forever leave a bad taste in the mouths of voters.
Millions of dollars have been spent on policy arguments in this election (an expensive debate in which groups I advise have been big players). But Grimes’s detestable personal attacks have really made the race about character.
Of course, McConnell frequently faces down this sort of hate, be it in the form of debunked attacks from House Speaker Greg Stumbo and union thugs about his military service, or stupid, racist comments about Chao’s ethnicity made by political operatives with close ties to Grimes.
McConnell endures and rises above it all. That’s why I support him for reelection, and why I always have. His only goal is to serve the public and the state he loves. His mission is to give Kentucky a meaningful seat at the table when public policy is formed in Washington D.C.
No amount of dishonesty, hate or vitriol has ever deterred McConnell. He believes the Republican Party and its conservative values give people a better chance to make the most of the American Dream, and he relentlessly fights for those values. A recent Gallup poll shows more Kentuckians share McConnell’s political views, as this state now has more people who identify with the GOP than the Democratic Party for the first time in history.
McConnell is candid. You know where he stands even if you don’t always agree with him. While Grimes revels in evasion, McConnell abhors it, preferring to be a blunt truth teller in a political world teeming with bologna. The only thing McConnell evades is the mind-numbing pablum destroying our political discourse.
True, he did not meet with this paper’s editorial board this year (he has met them many times before, usually to no avail), but, unlike Grimes, his job requires him to take public positions every day. There’s no mystery where McConnell stands on issues.
By reelecting McConnell, Kentucky can give itself an advantage not had since Alben Barkley served as Senate Majority Leader, and can truly push back against the disastrous policies of the Obama Administration. Beyond that, we can choose to be represented in Washington by an honest person with real character, something not to be undervalued in this world.
Scott Jennings is a former advisor to President George W. Bush and U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations and advises a pro-McConnell super PAC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY.