Former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin popped back into Kentucky politics on Friday to mock the press corps, lawmakers, and some Kentuckians, and prove, once again, exactly who he is.
After a year and a half of rumors, Kentuckians got their answer – Bevin is not running for office, and he told us in a way only he could.
The drama started early on Friday, nearly 8 hours before the deadline to file for statewide office in Kentucky as a Republican or Democrat loomed. Matt Bevin, after months of silence on Twitter, posted a picture from I-64 heading east from Louisville heading towards Frankfort, (I’d share it, but many of us are blocked from reading his tweets) “a beautiful day dawning in Kentucky,” he wrote.
The state House recessed and several members of the “Liberty” wing of the GOP, walked by the Secretary of State’s Office to see if the former Governor was on hand. He wasn’t, but more and more media steadily arrived toting cameras, and live gear.
I drove the back roads to Frankfort. Down Highway 60, my phone dinging from curious political spectators – is Bevin in, is he out, is he just messing with us all? I wasn’t sure but wanted a first-hand seat. When I arrived in the hallway outside the filing office, where one must present paperwork in person and a $500 check to run for statewide office, there were around 30 members of the media. I was giddy with the possibilities. Covering Matt Bevin is unlike covering any other political figure. He was Trump before Trump. He’s full of braggadocio. He would outright lie, and when caught would challenge reporters on all things, including the definitions of words. Or, like many of us eventually would end up you would be shunned, and he would eventually avoid us and would no longer take our questions.
I first met and covered Matt Bevin in 2013. At the time he was a little-known figure in the then-Tea Party wing of the GOP, and he wanted to take on U.S. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell in the Republican primary in 2014. He lost the race, badly. Many of us who prognosticate on these things did not see hopes of a re-emergence. McConnell does not just parry off attacks, he seeks to cripple his opponents – and Bevin looked damaged.
The following year, Bevin reemerged an angrier version of himself, he announced his candidacy on the filing deadline day, calling a late press conference and ran up the middle of a four-way primary playing the part of a level-headed adult as the primary spiraled. He would narrowly win the 2015 primary with 82 votes more than James Comer, and went on to become Governor.
On Friday, it seemed history was destined to repeat itself. In the early afternoon, Bevin called a 2:45 pm press conference in the Capitol Rotunda.
“At 2:45 pm in the Capitol rotunda (primarily for space reasons and because some of you are probably tired of sitting on the floor outside the SOS office :)), I will share a few thoughts before proceeding down the hall…” Bevin wrote.
After losing to Gov. Andy Beshear, D-Kentucky, by 5,000 votes in 2019, and having many in his party turn on him it was shocking to many that he would consider running again. In the last year and a half, I’ve reported that he has considered it. He has called old confidants, and appeared at public events.
In August, Bevin appeared at the Kentucky Farm Bureau Ham Breakfast, where he sidestepped questions from reporters. Bevin attended the event as a guest of former Rubicon CEO Nate Morris, who formerly bundled for U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky. He also participated in the Jefferson County Lincoln Day Dinner just days before the Ham Breakfast. All signals that he might run. But those formerly close to him insisted that they had not heard from him, and they were unsure if he would go it alone – or not run.
We got our answer from the troll-in-chief on Friday. He walked through the front doors of the Capitol, past a statue of President Abraham Lincoln, and began to dive into issues that he said needed fixing (I’m not going to detail the speech, mainly because it loses validity by pulling a stunt, but it was a campaign speech.) I videoed the event live on Twitter, and dozens of cameras beamed the speech back to their stations across Kentucky.
Then, as many of us walked back to the Secretary of State’s Office to watch him file for governor, and get photos for stories like this one, Bevin walked back out the front door of the Capitol. Past a reporter, and into a waiting runner van that sped away. All without actually filing.
Chaos soon ensued inside the Capitol, as reporters, and some in the Liberty caucus of the Republican Party in Frankfort, sat stunned outside of the Secretary of State’s Office. A campaign manager for another gubernatorial hopeful laughed, and it was hard not to see the humor in it. Thirty minutes before the filing deadline, we stood outside – just to be sure he did not pop back in and file paperwork. We’d been had. Bevin had left the building not to reappear.
With a stunt this size, it’s very likely he will never run again. Many will say good riddance. But I for one will miss Mr. Bevin. He was an agent of chaos, an unlikely governor, torturous to cover, but he could also be cunning and could charm upon occasion. When he was at his most healthy, Bevin could take aim at problems that take generations to solve. Albeit, not always in the most diplomatic or transparent of ways.
He now leaves the Kentucky political stage as a jester of the court and not the change agent he so desperately wanted to be.