Rand Paul is incredible. No, I don’t mean he’s ‘amazing’ like the Incredible Hulk, but non-credible, as in ‘only a fool would believe the words coming out of his mouth.’ We will have an object lesson on this phenomenon in the next 24 hours as Sen. Paul tosses his hat into the 2016 presidential ring by surrendering the very principles that supposedly make him a different kind of Republican.
There are two main areas where the new Rand Paul cannot precisely match the old one tomorrow: culture wars and military wars.
Despite the fact that young, antiwar conservatives have always provided the energy in his campaigns, Paul cannot echo his father’s paleoconservative isolationism as he used to and still hope to win the nomination in a political party which demands warmongering and ideological purity on Israel, Iran, and other foreign policy topics from its candidates. And he has a lot of ground to make up with the conservative movement on this score, since he has a long record of public statements on Israel and he can’t seem to decide whether drones are good or bad. It is because of this squishiness on his own part, and not his stated desire to “help” President Obama (ha!), that Paul signed Sen. Tom Cotton’s recent letter to the Ayatollah.
Sen. Paul also plans to kick off his South Carolina campaign at Patriots Point in Charleston, which is a naval and maritime museum set in the very place where the confederacy began its war of southern aggression. So much for the noninterventionist Rand Paul — say hello to the new, more hawkish one, less afraid than ever to let his neoconfederate freak flag fly.
Nor can Paul win a presidential nod from the GOP without pandering to the substantial majority of Republicans who want to establish Christianity as America’s official religion and pass anti-gay ‘religious freedom’ laws, such as the one recently signed by Indiana Governor Mike Pence. Whereas Paul used to try carving out a rhetorical space in which he avoided the marriage equality issue by arguing for a state-by-state approach, doing away with federal tax rules regarding married couples, and so on, lately he’s hinted about his willingness to pursue a top-down, federal approach to the issue. He’s also appeared in a new anti-gay marriage documentary alongside some of the most virulent culture warriors in America.
Paul’s shrinking libertarianism is not a matter of conscience, either. His expanding neoconservatism has no other purpose than the enlargement of his appeal to the Republican base — and it’s not clear that his plan will work.
“Rand has made it clear that his strategy is to embrace a broader group of Republicans than his dad captured,” said Drew Ivers, Ron Paul’s 2012 Iowa campaign chairman. “Whether he can pull it off has yet to be proven, and he has significant challenges, even though he’s a smart guy and capable.”
“The question is mathematics: How many people will he gain versus how many will he lose, both in terms of numbers and energy?” said Ivers, who says he plans to stay on the sidelines this time around. “I’d prefer if he had a different strategy, reaching out his arms to the center-right and saying ‘join me,’ rather than meeting them in the middle.”
Nick Gillespie, editor in chief of the libertarian magazine Reason, agreed: “To the extent he sounds more like every conservative Republican, he sounds less interesting to libertarians. I don’t see what he picks up by being a version of Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio,” two other freshman senators who are in the mix for the Republican nomination for 2016.
I will post analysis and reaction to his speech tomorrow.