The focus of the meeting was opposition research on Ashley Judd, who at the time was considering a bid. McConnell and his staff discussed how to attack her on everything from her political views to the fact that she had considered suicide as a sixth-grader. It was pretty nasty stuff and definitely not the kind of meeting an unpopular senator seeking reelection should want to be associated with.
Despite McConnell's "do them out" strategy, the campaign actually appeared to relish the possibility of facing Judd in a general election. In fact, other than facing no candidate at all, they seemed to believe Judd was their version of Sharron Angle. But unlike Angle, Judd decided not run—and unlike Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell is now on tape with his campaign staff salivating over the prospect of facing what he believed would be a weak opponent.
The meeting also discussed another potential McConnell opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky's Democratic secretary of state. Unlike Judd, McConnell's opposition research on Grimes basically came up empty. Grimes, who is 34 and a rising star in the state, hasn't decided to run, but if she does, McConnell's "Whac-A-Mole" plan appears to be in serious jeopardy.
To the extent that the tape is damaging for McConnell, I think it's that by saying that his political fortunes depend on having weak opposition, he's effectively conceding the weakness of his own record. Obviously, denying your opponents oxygen is a tried and true political tactic, but it's one thing to do it and it's another thing to say you're doing it, because by saying you're doing, you basically are admitting you don't have anything else. And given that McConnell is still the most unpopular senator in the country, that's not a good position to be in.
Predictably, McConnell is responding to the story by trying to deflect focus from what he said to questions about how the tape was obtained. In a statement, the campaign accused "the Left" of "Watergate-style" tactics, but provided no evidence that the tape was recorded by opponents of McConnell on the left. A source "close" to McConnell's campaign told CNN that the FBI has been asked to investigate how the recording was made. But however it was made, what McConnell said on the recording was crystal clear: to win, he needs to annihilate his opponents before the campaign even begins.