Rand Paul's Unlikely Enthusiasts Now Include Nat Hentoff and Ana Marie Cox


One of the big questions about the presidential aspirations of the libertarian-leaning Republican Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) is whether, when faced with the chance of electing the first female president, non-Republicans would really pull the lever for the author of the Life Begins at Conception Act.

The jury's still out on that, and may well always be, but it's at least interesting that the senator is getting positive notices from unusual quarters. Most recently there's Ana Marie Cox, in a Guardian piece titled "Ted Cruz's Tea Party allegiance only makes the case for Rand Paul stronger: There are two Republicans who can take down Hillary Clinton, and Rand Paul isn't much of a Republican. If the GOP wants to survive, it might be to time to ride the libertarian wave." Sample:

The key indicator for the Cruz-Paul matchup, at this ultra-early stage, is found in state head-to-head polls against Clinton: in the most recent polls from Iowa and North Carolina, Paul is the GOP nominee who comes the closest to besting Clinton – beating not just Cruz but Christie and Jeb Bush, too. In New Hampshire and Colorado, he's the only Republican that can beat her. […]

Cruz's considerable ego flourishes in the spotlight, while Paul has a cagier – and more wonkily sedate – approach to grandstanding. Search the internet for wacky Rand Paul quotes. He puts his most right-wing proposals in deceptively simple language: framing the elimination of Social Security, for instance, as "I think the average American is smart enough to make their own investments." His other gaffes are in support of libertarian ideas that sound weird only in the context of being a Republican in 2014: "I think torture is always wrong," for instance, or saying he would have voted against invading Iraq. […]

Paul's libertarianism is unapologetic; where he's strayed from GOP orthodoxy, it's largely in the direction that the American public is going – and not just his call for National Security Administration oversight (supported by 59% of Americans). On marriage equality (also supported by 59% of Americans), Paul told his party that they need to "agree to disagree". In contrast, Cruz has introduced a bill that would invalidate the federal benefits of same-sex marriages if the couple moves to a marriage-restricted state – and he asked listeners to "pray" that marriage equality rulings be reversed.

But it's not just about bending with the popular will. Paul has staked out positions outside the GOP orthodoxy that are also on the periphery of the average voter's radar. He at least admits that the Republican mania for voter ID laws is counter-productive: "Republicans need to be aware that there is a group of voters that I'm trying to court and that we should be trying to court who do see it as something directed towards them." Both Paul and Cruz advocate drug sentencing reform, but Paul backs up that gesture with the belief that felons' voting rights should be reinstated. 

There are to-be-sures to be sure; read the whole thing here (hat tip: David Boaz).

Less surprising but more explicitly enthusiastic is a two-part (so far) endorsement last month from the venerable civil-libertarian journalist Nat Hentoff. From "My Pro-Constitution Choice for President":

For me, Paul made real a fantasy I'd long held: that someone running for the presidency, as he clearly is, would focus insistently on what it means under our Constitution to be an American – with basic individual rights and liberties no government has the authority to suspend or erase.

In "The Distinctive Core of Sen. Rand Paul," Hentoff works through his hesitations about Paul's approach toward foreign policy and The Civil Rights Act, then concludes:

As of now, from what I know of all the candidates for the presidency across the political spectrum, that advice for regenerating the Constitution defines Rand Paul.

Hentoff's archive (which includes more recent Paul-related material) here. Reason on "The Most Interesting Man in the Senatehere.