Which brings us that word: "considered." Corn writes that "McConnell and his aides considered assaulting Judd" on various aspects of her past. Do not misunderstand: The path from "considered" to "acted upon" is very, very long. A campaign with the budget and experience of McConnell's would understand that a negative attack bears its own risk. Particularly for an opponent that faced an uphill battle, as some polling showed Judd did, there was little incentive for McConnell's team to launch virulent, cruel personal attacks against her. They got the oppo book and got excited. That happens. Almost never do those worst impulses make it onto the air or into campaign literature.
They do, however, often make it into the press. A much better question to ask is whether or not the McConnell team leaked any of what they'd uncovered to the Daily Caller or other outlets. The campaign ran one anti-Judd spot, but it was light on the attacks. Letting the media do the dirty work instead is a time-honored tradition — and itself not a pleasant one to contemplate.
That idea comes up when we turn our attention to the other word: "including." Judd was not the only target for the researchers. At the end of the transcript, the researcher mentions Matthew Bevins, a potential primary candidate for McConnell (if not the likely one). Indicating that it wasn't only Judd who faced this scrutiny, McConnell's team ran oppo on other possible opponents as well, including Republicans. Because this is what you do — particularly early in a campaign. The transcript leads with this quote from the senator (which is also the audio above):
If I could interject…I assume most of you have played the, the game Whac-A-Mole? [Laughter.] This is the Whac-A-Mole period of the campaign…when anybody sticks their head up, do them out …
That's the context for the meeting. The campaign's goal is to find what they can on opponents and use that information to keep them out of the race. If Matthew Bevins had some skeleton in his closet — say, a photo of him embracing Obama — McConnell allies could use that to discourage Bevins from launching a challenge to the leader's seat. Or if an opponent had missed child support payments, or had a drunk driving charge, or one of a million things, pressure could be applied. It's unlikely that McConnell needed to aid conservative blogs in uncovering damaging information on Judd, but doing so fits squarely with the stated Whac-A-Mole strategy. Here, Judd wasn't the only mole.
All of which is to say that McConnell's team is guilty of nothing but running a modern political campaign. Yes, it can be unpleasant to hear disparagement of Judd's earnest feelings on various issues, but a recording of nearly any such meeting, regardless of political party, would elicit similar reactions and mockery. Considering how to undermine a political opponent is not how one acts in polite society, but it is part and parcel of closed-door campaign meetings. Von Bismarck's warning about laws and sausages holds true for political campaigns as well.
This is how your sausage is made, America. Unpleasant. But Mitch McConnell didn't invent the practice. He didn't even end up selling you that sausage.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.