There’s something iconic about the latest exchange of fire in the Kentucky Republican Senate primary contest between Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and “true conservative” challenger Matt Bevin. The challenger is making McConnell’s role in TARP a centerpiece of his campaign, which is probably understandable given McConnell’s gift-quote calling TARP “one of the finest moments in the history of the Senate.”

McConnell’s response–disseminated generously by Politico’s John Bresnahan today–is equally predictable: So’s your old man!

[B]ack in 2008, as an investment fund president, Bevin backed the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, as well as the government takeover of troubled mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac….

A Bevin spokeswoman said the GOP candidate has not changed his position on these issues, although Bevin’s statements from that time are different from what he is saying now.

A McConnell campaign spokeswoman blasted Bevin for his apparent TARP reversal, arguing it was part of a general pattern of Bevin misrepresenting his record in order to try to score political points.

“This is nothing short of a con man being caught red-handed in the middle of a sale,” said Allison Moore, McConnell’s spokeswoman. “If it wasn’t clear that Matt Bevin isn’t who he says he is after his MIT debacle, it sure is now.”

Bevin’s now-revised LinkedIn biography once implied that he attended MIT, but the candidate took part in only a three-week seminar there.

McConnell has hit back hard, asserting that Bevin tells different stories about his past and positions on issues depending on the audience and the day.

This is typical in a couple of ways. Conservative activist types are generally less interested in the backgrounds of their champions than in their current willingness to pass every imaginable litmus test. This is how serial adulterer and political hack Newt Gingrich got away with posing as a brave defender of Christendom against Secular Socialism and Sharia Law for a good while during the 2012 presidential cycle. Against a man they consider the very symbol of the RINO Beltway Establishment, they’ll back Bevin with great enthusiasm no matter what sins he’s committed. The implicit message is (to adapt the famous Ed Edwards slogan in his race against David Duke): “Vote for the hypocrite. It’s Important!”

The McConnell camp’s response is even more typical: harshly and personally negative. Nobody much likes ol’ Mitch (his latest favorability ratio in Kentucky is 27/50); his political survival has always been based on the willingness to spend extraordinary amounts of money dragging opponents right down into the pit of hell with him. So tactics that might give one pause elsewhere (e.g., calling a fellow Republican whom McConnell will almost certainly endorse if he loses the primary “a con man”) are par for the course.

So it will be pure ideology vs. a McConnell Mudbath in Kentucky. Either way it’s pretty good news for Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.