The problem with paper trails

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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In politics, you always hear about the danger of having a long voting record, but it’s a good idea not to have a long paper trail, either. That’s the lesson Republican Senate candidate Matt Bevin is learning today.

As Politico is reporting, “back in 2008, as an investment fund president, Bevin backed the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program…”

More from Politico on Bevin:

“An Oct. 28, 2008, report for investors of Veracity Funds obtained by POLITICO — signed personally by Bevin as president of the fund — praised the federal government’s unprecedented intervention in the U.S. financial markets at that time.

“‘Most of the positive developments have been government led, such as the effective nationalization of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the passage of the $700 billion TARP (don’t call it a bailout) and the Federal Reserve’s intention to invest in commercial paper,’ wrote Bevin and Daniel Bandi, chief investment officer and vice president of the fund. ‘These moves should help to stabilize asset prices and help to ease liquidity constraints in the financial system.’”

Now maybe this was just Bevin saying what he needed to say for business reasons. Or maybe he believed everything he wrote, but would have still opposed it for philosophical reasons? Maybe he wouldn’t have supported it in the Senate.

Or maybe, as Bevin told Glenn Beck, he had nothing to do with writing the letter (that he personally signed).

None of these possibilities make him look especially good to conservative voters.

 * * *

A similar, if less egregious, example comes to us in the form of an article penned by Nebraska Senate candidate Ben Sasse, who, in 2009, wrote: “There’s an emerging consensus that [the individual mandate] might be a good idea.”

This, of course, sounds horrifying to conservative ears. But it was also empirically true and philosophically neutral. In this instance, at least, Sasse wasn’t saying he liked the individual mandate, but that it was becoming increasingly popular.

Regardless, it is one of the lines still haunting him today, as his political enemies seek to discredit his conservative bona fides.

As someone who has spilled lots of ink (and amassed many hours of interview footage) I am very sympathetic to anyone who has engaged in nuanced, intellectually honest (and ill-advised), commentary.

Let’s take my latest offering at The Week, for example. The title is “In defense of not working,” and in it, I argue that there might be some positive things to come from the very bad ObamaCare law.

How hard would it be for someone to pull that one column — ignoring everything else I’ve written — and all the caveats offered — and accuse me (me!) of being “pro-ObamaCare”?

The potential problem for Bevin and Sasse is that they have both presented themselves as conservative heroes — and they are being backed by conservative groups who have hit Republicans for daring to stray from conservative orthodoxy. In Bevin’s case, he seems to have displayed an incredible amount of moxie. As Politico notes, he has “made McConnell’s support for TARP the centerpiece of his challenge” to the incumbent Senator.

This may be an argument against hypocrisy, or for people living in glass houses not to throw stones. But it’s also a warning to all future candidates that everything they say (and write) will be used against them: Shutting up: It’s not just for future Supreme Court Justices, anymore!