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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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August 8th, 2013
06:08 PM ET

Analysis: Campaign manager bashing boss Sen. McConnell reflects rise of tea party

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's campaign manager Jesse Benton was caught dissing his boss on tape Thursday, and he is not being fired.

Benton has "got leverage here because the fact is, Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), veteran U.S. senator, the Senate Minority Leader, needs this staffer badly," said Jonathan Martin, national correspondent with The New York Times.

Benton, a top political aide to Ron Paul and his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, was hired by McConnell in September 2012 to lead his Senate campaign.

"He's a bridge to Rand Paul and the Paul universe. Mitch McConnell already has a primary opponent on the right. He cannot afford to alienate the Paul world if by dumping the staffer overboard he would do just that," said Martin.

McConell is a powerful senator and well-funded. But the fact that he is not firing a staffer caught criticizing him on tape illustrates "the tea party's rise and near dominance now in the Republican party," said Martin.

The situation also underscores how despite the eagerness of the Paul world, which is filled with very serious and sincere activists, many are not ready for prime time, said CNN contributor and columnist with The New York Times Ross Douthat.

"Even though this illustrates his power, it also illustrates sort of the fact that people in those circles make mistakes that more season campaigned staff wouldn't," said Douthat.

Across the aisle is an issue affecting at least one Democratic senator, Tom Harkin of Iowa. Harkin recently told the Des Moines Register why he thought President Barack Obama could not get more support in the Senate.

"Not naming any names, but one senator got up from a southern state and said, 'You've got to understand that to my people down here, Obama seems like' – he thought for a second and he said, 'like he's exotic,'" Harkin said.

"I would have challenged that senator, that southern senator. I would have challenged him and said, 'What the hell are you talking about?' To say the word exotic, that's a dog whistle," said CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile.

"Snator Harkin should have challenged him," added Brazile. "The notion that they laughed after the senator made those comments, that's reprehensible. So I'm out raged by it."

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