No one seems entirely sure why Matt Bevin, Kentucky’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, announced Wednesday morning that he would vote for Ben Carson over Rand Paul, the Kentucky senator who has endorsed his candidacy, other than that, well, Matt Bevin could say pretty much anything at any time and it wouldn’t be all that surprising.
It wouldn’t be surprising, either, if Bevin made the case for Carson during a debate on the radio and then, shortly thereafter, took to Twitter to pretend it hadn’t happened at all.
Actually, that’s precisely what Bevin did.
“He takes contradictory positions on lots of things,” John David Dyche, a conservative columnist based in Kentucky and the author of Republican Leader, a Mitch McConnell biography, told me. “He’s earned that reputation. He’s repeatedly said something, denied that he said that, then said something completely different.”
Bevin, whose spokesman did not return a request for comment or an interview request, appeared on Kentucky’s 630 WLAP Wednesday morning to debate his Democratic opponent, Jack Conway (whom Paul clobbered in the 2010 Senate race), and independent opponent Drew Curtis. When asked by host Matt Jones—himself no fan of Paul—for his pick for president if the GOP primary were held today, Bevin replied that he used to like Scott Walker, but “of those still in the race right now, I like Ben Carson.”
“He’s intelligent, he’s articulate, he’s respected,” Bevin said. “At this point, I’m looking at people who would have the best chance of uniting all the pieces. I think the world of Rand—he’s been very gracious to me and vice versa when he ran. But in terms of who I would select right now for the next president, he would not be the first choice that I would make.”
Before Bevin’s comment could even sink in, he was already walking it back. Or, more accurately, pretending he’d never said it.
On Twitter, Bevin said, “To be clear..I like Ben Carson, but am not endorsing him or anyone for POTUS. Have never endorsed in my life. If I did would #StandWithRand.”
Bevin may have remembered—with the help of Conway, who pointed it out during the radio debate—that it’s Paul, not Carson, who is attending a rally with Bevin on Saturday at the KSU Baptist Ministry Campus in Frankfort. Paul’s campaign has confirmed he’ll still be going, despite Bevin’s betrayal and despite the fact that the last thing Paul needs right now, as he tries to claw his way back up in the primary polls and hang on to his Senate seat, is doubt coming from a Republican in his own state—even one regarded as a bit of a loose cannon.
Asked if they knew what Bevin was thinking when he endorsed Carson, a source with knowledge of the situation said, “You are implying facts not in evidence regarding Bevin thinking before speaking.” The source said they were “not sure he needed to be told” to backtrack.
The roots of Bevin’s distaste for or distrust of Paul seem to stem from the senator’s attempts to be on the inside of a system that Bevin loathes. Bevin is a New Hampshire native, Army vet, and father of nine. “He wants to label himself, truly, as an outsider,” Todd Inman, a Republican operative from Owensboro, told me. Bevin’s entire campaign platform can be summed up in seven words: “pro life, pro family, pro Second Amendment.” Naturally, Bevin has found fans in likeminded conservative talk radio giants like Glenn Beck and Mark Levin.
In 2014, Bevin challenged establishment favorite and now-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for his Senate seat. At the time, Paul was attempting to bridge the gap between the base of the libertarian supporters he inherited from his father, former congressman Ron Paul, and the establishment GOP that McConnell represents. To be a formidable presidential candidate, Paul and his team knew he would need friends in both camps. And so Jesse Benton, Paul’s longtime strategist and a member of his family, went to work for McConnell—something, Benton described in a leaked recording, he had to do while “holdin’ my nose.” (Benton would later resign, and then be indicted.)
McConnell won the primary, and then the general election. Bevin won nothing at all until 2015, when he managed to pull out on top in the gubernatorial primary with a lead of just 83 votes. It’s understandable, then, that he has a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
“I don’t know if it’s animosity, or maybe a little bit of jealousy that Rand’s there and Bevin’s not,” Inman said. “Bevin thinks that he should be the senator from Kentucky. That would’ve made him junior senator from Kentucky. There’s no doubt about it, even though they’ve showed up at a couple of joint events and the senator said he would support the entire ticket, there’s still animosity there with a lot of people.”
Inman, who supported McConnell, said Bevin has not forgotten it. “I personally have been around Bevin a few times in the last few months, and he wouldn’t even speak to me, he just turned away. I think a lot of people have felt or have seen the same thing.”