Mitch McConnell is “hip” now!

A wacky Web video is just part of the minority leader's new effort to win the Internet and prove he's "with it"

Topics: Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul, Ron Paul, internet memes, 2014 elections, Kentucky, Internet,

Mitch McConnell is "hip" now!Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. (Credit: J. Scott Applewhite)

Mitch McConnell’s reelection campaign impressed some, offended others and befuddled many more when it released Tuesday afternoon a cartoonish Auto-Tuned attack video taunting Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who announced that she’ll challenge the Senator minority leader. The manic video, which tries to find words that rhyme with Grimes’ name (“left wing mime” and “sticks to party line,” apparently), has the look and feel of something made by a fanboy Redditor, not one of the best-funded political campaigns in the country — and that’s the point. It’s just the latest salvo in a concerted campaign to make the septuagenarian senator cool on the Internet, and it’s all being led by the man who helped Ron Paul win the Internet half a decade ago.

It took many by surprise last year when Jesse Benton came on board to manage McConnell’s campaign, which promised to be a tough job, considering that McConnell was the least popular senator in the country. Benton cut his teeth working for Ron Paul beginning in 2007. Eventually, he married Paul’s granddaughter and managed Paul’s son Rand’s successful Kentucky Senate campaign. As Dave Weigel wrote last year, Benton was instrumental in helping “[Ron] Paul carve out a new wing in the Republican Party.”

McConnell knew he had to win over, or at least appease, that libertarian wing of the party if he was to avoid a primary challenge. So if he couldn’t be Paul, he would do the next best thing and hire the man behind Paul. Learning from the 2012 presidential campaign, McConnell determined he had to use technology the same way Obama has.

“They set the gold standard for digital engagement in 2012,” Benton said in an interview in May. “I think it’s just natural that you look to your competitor to find best practices, implement what they’re doing that’s the best and try to find additional, new things on your own to improve that.”

So far, that seems to mean a lot of memes. Since Benton took over, “Team Mitch” has rolled out one viral play after another. They taunted Harry Reid on gun control with a Facebook image macro (lifted from Comedy Central); mocked up a fake text message exchange with Democratic Sen. Max Baucus; wheeled around a 7-foot-high stack of paper meant to represent the regulatory overburden of Obamacare; and taunted Obama by posing next to an empty chair at a bar after the president suggested they couldn’t have a beer together.

It’s all meant to emulate the native language of the Internet, and especially places like Reddit or BuzzFeed, which McConnell’s House colleagues are nakedly imitating, and to insist, as Dr. Evil once did, “I’m with it. I’m hip.”

Team Mitch even did a Harlem Shake video (remember that thing?). They’re so concerned about virality that the team may have even purchased views on YouTube to make a video look more popular than it really was.

Whether it will be successful or not remains to be seen, but it probably can’t hurt considering how loathed McConnell is. As for Benton, this is his first major foray outside of Paul World. He’s had a rocky relationship with Paul’s base at times, criticized for skimming too much money off the Paul network for himself, among other things. Last year, Anonymous released a video saying it had a “leak that exposes Jesse Benton['s]…sabotage of the Ron Paul’s campaign during the Republican National Convention (RNC). Speculation Suggest that Jesse Benton was paid off handsomely for his services to sabotage the Ron Paul movement.” On a popular Ron Paul message board, one user responded to the video by saying it was old news: “I know everyone is sick to death about Jesse Benton’s betrayal of of Dr. Paul [sic].”

Which all raises the question of whether this is really just a warmup for Benton to work on Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential campaign, should such a campaign exist.

Alex Seitz-Wald

Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...