My friend Josh Green is down in Kentucky getting the local flavor of the Paul-Conway race. And he’s got a fascinating take from a couple days reporting on just how it’s playing down in the state. The gist is that while the national media has moved on from Aqua Buddha (believe me, I’ve been trying to keep the conversation going but it ain’t easy) down in Kentucky it’s still all Aqua Buddha all the time. As Josh describes it, it’s basically all anyone is talking about.On the surface most people profess to be critical of Aqua Buddha. But that’s not the whole story. Digging a little deeper Josh found that while the controversy hasn’t necessarily made Conway any new friends, it’s shaken a lot of people’s confidence in Rand Paul. To be clear, it’s not that they think he worships Aqua Buddha or even that they find anything particularly beyond the pale about the incident, even if true in all particulars. It’s his response that seems weird. Why won’t he just deny it? Or say it was a college prank and move on? And what’s with the grandiose backing out of the final debate? Why won’t he show up and face the guy who smacked him? (Paul’s actually kept this one in suspense. He’s going to announce tomorrow whether he’ll show up for the second debate.)
In other words, it’s sounding like a pretty good example of what I’ve called “bitch slap politics”, a form of political gambit in which the substance of the attack is less important than showing the recipient can’t or won’t defend himself. It’s clear even from way over here in New York City that this whole episode has gotten way inside Rand’s head. And Josh actually think that if he decides not to show up and face Conway it may cost him the race. In this sense, people not liking the Conway ad is par for the course. They never do. The Swift Boat episode from 2004 is a good example of the paradigm. Outside of really hardcore Republican partisans no one liked the Swift Boat ads. They were crass and classless and sleazy. But that didn’t matter. They deeply undermined Kerry.
From Josh’s concluding graf …
The thing that really seemed to bother them, though–and this was also true of every talk-radio caller–was Paul’s refusal to debate Conway Monday night. No one could understand why he wouldn’t want to take the stage. As one of them put it, borrowing a line from Sharron Angle, Paul needed to “man up” and face down the aggressor. I came away with the sense that if he doesn’t, he’ll pay a steep price and maybe even cost himself the race. The issue isn’t Paul’s Christianity, but his manhood. That’s why think he’ll change his mind. Paul’s campaign manager told reporters today that Paul will announce his decision tomorrow afternoon.