Rand Paul

Rand Paul and the Perils of the "Interesting" Candidate

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I've got an essay this morning on Politico on this most Rand Paul-y of days. It's mostly about the difficulties of splitting the difference between the "interesting" (generally, read: libertarian-ish) aspects that made him a relative mediagenic darling on his way up, and appealing to the wide swath of GOP voters and normal Americans who often still find this libertarian stuff scary.

Excerpts:

Whereas Paul told me back in 2013 that he hoped to make "audit the Pentagon" as popular a rallying cry as his father Ron Paul did "audit the Fed," he's now proposing $190 billion in spending increases for defense over two years, but claims fiscal conservative bonafides regardless since the proposal comes with accompanying cuts elsewhere.

Paul used to be very forceful in distinguishing his vision of American power abroad from the "neoconservative" one that tried to gin up constant war in the Middle East. Now he's definitely for using force against ISIL and signed the Tom Cotton letter clearly intended to scotch negotiations over keeping Iran from getting nuclear weapons. That decision lost Paul some prominent supporters from the anti-empire crowd that flocked to his father, but Paul said at an appearance at the SXSW festival that it was more complicated than it might seem: he was not trying to end negotiations; "The message was to President Obama that we want you to obey the law, we want you to understand the separation of powers."

Rand's non-interventionism has evolved into something that seems more about process than content, always strong on congressional authority in war making, but softer on when and where such force might be appropriate. Still, foreign policy advisor Elise Jordan says that Paul's "conservative realism" is mindful of the physician's imperative that our foreign policy moving forward should "do no harm," takes into account the security risks of overspending ourselves into bankruptcy and sees a positive virtue in not declaring ideological pre-commitments regarding questions like: should we or should we not definitely commit to using all necessary force to keep Iran from getting a bomb? But Paul still can't escape having a wide variety of Party activists see him as a reflexive non-interventionist.

When it comes to foreign aid, he's walking the line the opposite way, stressing content when his libertarian fans might prefer he stick to being against the process in general. He used to be for ending all foreign aid as a matter of principle; lately his anti-foreign aid proposals are more specifically aimed at regimes that persecute Christians or, in the case of the Palestinians, attack Israelis.

Consistency of principled message is a virtue more than one Paul campaign advisor tout as among his strongest, but there is no political benefit from libertarian individualist philosophy on matters like free association (no wonder he avoided the media scrum over Indiana and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act last week). He learned his lesson from being slammed after discussing on Rachel Maddow's show in 2010 whether consistent belief in freedom of association might make aspects of the Civil Rights Act questionable. When old video surfaced of him defending a libertarian vision of rights as inherent in individuals and not about status or specific behaviors we choose, Buzzfeed made hay of Paul not believing in "gay rights." Campaign message discipline moving forward won't be enough; everything Paul ever said in front of a camera or tape recorder will be made part of the campaign by his opponents on both sides.

Read the whole thing.

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  1. “The message was to President Obama that we want you to obey the law, we want you to understand the separation of powers.”

    That’s so quaint it’s almost cute.

  2. Tune in to KH&R where we are…

    …ALL RAND ALL THE TIME!

    1. It’s a lot better than polls, mosques, or wedding cakes.

      1. Mosques! That’s it.

        I knew there was some flash in the pan issue before gay pizza and millennial poles that everybody freaked out about and then totally forgot.

        Say, whatever happened to the Terror Mosque in Manhattan, anyway?

        1. They refused to perform a gay wedding.

    2. I do hope Paul wins the nomination and then the presidency, but he is still a politician and seeing this wall of hype today is rather nauseating. It’s totally understandable, but it makes me feel like I’m supposed to be one of those guys who goes nutso over a candidate. And I loath such people.

      1. Good instinct.At the end of the day, he’s still a politician and everyone needs to remember that. Regardless, he’s probably the most promising candidate to come along in a long time. This is going to be interesting, to say the least.

        1. At the end of the day, he’s still a politician and everyone needs to remember that.

          Yep. Forget that and you will be sorely disappointed.

          1. The great part about being a libertarian is a healthy skepticism. Our culture of eating our own certainly has its disadvantages electorally speaking and in terms of coalition building, but our no true scotsman nature also endows us with the kinda distrust that even the most palatable candidate should be viewed with.

  3. I’ve got an idea! Why doesn’t every writer at Reason do a piece about Rand Paul!

    I wonder what ENB’s take will be.

    1. Something something (insert prog talking point on abortion here).

    2. He can’t be a libertarian! He’s anti-choice! Clearly libertarianism doesn’t have room for being against the killing of fetusus!

    3. I’d like to know what the millennials think about Rand Paul. Perhaps a poll could be taken…

  4. Nothing new here: back in 2008 every reasdon writer felt the need to write 1-3 stories on a decade old newslertter story.

  5. The Repubs have tried running the “Dull as Dishwater” candidates for awhile now, and that didn’t seem to win anything.

    Hard to see how an “interesting” candidate can do worse.

    1. Hopefully they’ll give us “good as Goldwater” this time around.

    2. How much data is this based on? When it comes to presidential elections, they win about half the time, & usu. w dishwater. What were their last 2, the Georges Bush, exciting?

  6. I’m interested to see how many times Rand critics use the word “crypto” before various other descriptors about him, ie “crypto-racist” (if freedom of association comes up).

  7. Interesting candidates have alt-text.

    1. Interesting candidates don’t need alt-text.

      1. False. Everyone and everything need alt-text.

  8. I think Paul’s biggest challenge is that he’s trying (for good reason, politically) to reach out to many different groups, and it’s going to be very difficult to placate all of them, especially while not coming off as a pandering flip-flopper. For example, he’s trying to win SoCon votes while at the same time trying to reach out to groups generally turned off by social conservatism. He’s trying in some ways to placate the interventionist tendencies on most Republicans while not abandoning his relatively non-interventionist stance and his traditional supporters in favor of that.

    It’s a tough line to walk, and at the end of the day, if he does get elected, we don’t know which principles he’d ultimately stick to. I’m more hopeful about him than I’ve ever been about a candidate with a somewhat realistic shot of winning, and I do plan on voting for him in the primary, but I can’t say that I’m not nervous about whether or not he’d disappoint in the White House.

    1. I think Rand’s biggest electoral goal is to break down the general sentiment of the right as being exclusively the domain of white men and I think his courting of the SoCons is actually tied to that. He’s trying to gain the acceptance of the SoCon crowd in order to pitch criminal justice reform as the abolition of its day and make it an issue that the right can co-opt.

    2. …if he does get elected, we don’t know which principles he’d ultimately stick to.

      My rule of thumb is to look at what the candidate in question stood for before they were running for president because running for president does require so much pandering and double talk to get the votes to win.

      When I do this with Rand I like what I see for the most part. On spending/ debt, civil liberties issues, drug and criminal justice reform, and on foreign policy. I would vote for him before any other major party candidate.

      1. I agree with that, but I think there’s a big caveat with Rand – because of who he is and who his father is, it was very politically opportunistic to appeal to libertarian-leaning people to gather support in the 2010 Senate primary. Ron Paul had enough supporters to make a very big difference in the 2010 primary, and in Kentucky, that is usually the real competitive race for the office. By appealing to his dad’s base, Paul stood to gain a very good chance at winning a Senate seat.

        I’m not saying this is what he did BTW, I’m just saying that what he said then is no guarantee of what he’d do in office. As I’ve said, I’ll vote for him in the primary, but I think it’s important for libertarians to maintain a healthy skepticism of all politicians.

        1. I get what you’re saying, and I agree. Really it just comes down to whether or not you’re willing to roll the dice on Rand or not. I figure even if he isn’t as libertarian as he seemed in 2010 he’s probably still a damn sight better than any of the other major party alternatives. Especially Shillary.

  9. Rand’s non-interventionism has evolved into something that seems more about process than content

    Rand’s non-interventionism has been something more assumed by libertarians than actually evidenced by anything Rand has ever actually said. I’m reasonably certain that he’s consistently claimed to be a realist (whether he is one or not is open to debate) rather than either a neo-conservative type or a non-interventionist.

    1. This is very much the case. The funny thing is, compared to the hyper-interventionism that has gained currency in both political parties, a realist is probably not that different from a non-interventionist in practical terms.

    2. He was a major voice against intervening in Syria in 2011, so his non-interventionalist cred is backed by that.

      1. On the other hand, wouldn’t his realist cred be backed by that, as well?

        “There is no side that advances American interests and in the absence of that, we shouldn’t risk our blood and treasure.” sounds pretty realist to me.

        1. Agreed. I think realism and a non-interventionalist temperment go hand in hand though. I came to non-interventionism from realist foreign policy thinking, and largely courtesy of seeing the colossal clusterfucks that Iraq and Afghanistan turned out to be.

          And Rand’s speech today did hit on a few realist buzzwords: he indicated a desire for stability over chaos (a very realist position, though one that ocassionally makes awkward alliances) and an armed forces that could project power in defense of America’s “vital national interest.”

          I don’t know if he’s merely trying to pitch himself as a foreign policy realist to gain cred among the foreign policy intelligencia as something other than a knee-jerk non-interventionist, but I think he occupies the overlap well.

      2. I’m with Bill on this one. My own rationale for not intervening in Syria, Libya, Iraq, etc. was very similar to Paul’s and I sure as hell am not a non-interventionist.

  10. I think there were a few Reason writers back in 2008 pulling for Obama, no?

    In retrospect, do you guys think Obama said shit just to win the election? Would those writers have supported him had he told the truth about himself?

    Not that I’m thrilled with a political process that requires candidates to lie to win (show me an alternative), but it’s my belief that Rand is as libertarian (at heart) as almost anyone posting here…BUT…he’s running for office and can’t go there. As it stands, he’s the most libertarian candidate to ever have a chance of winning. I’ll take the chance that I’m right. He has my vote and we’ll see what his actions say about him once in office.

    Yeah, it’s a shit sandwich and I’m compromising my principles…

    1. but it’s my belief that Rand is as libertarian (at heart) as almost anyone posting here…BUT…he’s running for office and can’t go there.

      I’m not totally sure he is. But, I really don’t think it matters. It really comes down to relative libertarianism. Compared to most political candidates, John would probably be very, very libertarian. So, even if he’s only as libertarian as John, that puts him in the very, very libertarian camp.

      1. It really comes down to relative libertarianism.

        Ding, ding. We have a winner.

        Well, not an electoral winner, but you know what I mean.

    2. “but it’s my belief that Rand is as libertarian (at heart) as almost anyone posting here…BUT…he’s running for office and can’t go there. As it stands, he’s the most libertarian candidate to ever have a chance of winning. I’ll take the chance that I’m right. He has my vote and we’ll see what his actions say about him once in office.”

      This is possible. But it’s also possible that he’s not much different from the average politician and only advocated libertarianish policies to win office by gaining the support of his father’s active base and then making a name for himself by differentiating from the crowd. As I said above, I will vote for him the in the primary on the chance that the scenario you outline is correct (or at least somewhat accurate), but I’m not approaching this with rose-colored glasses either.

      1. But it’s also possible that he’s not much different from the average politician and only advocated libertarianish policies to win office by gaining the support of his father’s active base and then making a name for himself by differentiating from the crowd.

        Because Ron Paul won such a huge percentage of the vote, what with that well-oiled campaign machine, because Libertarian issues are such winners at the ballot box.

        1. Winning a Senate race is a lot different from winning a presidential election. Especially in Kentucky, where the Republican nominee is almost guaranteed to win. Ron Paul had enough supporters to make a very big difference in the 2010 GOP Senate primary.

        2. Furthermore, some libertarian(ish) positions are somewhat popular, and can help a candidate stand out. Paul has won a lot of supporters through taking relatively libertarian positions on things like the NSA and surveillance, drug policy, foreign policy, etc. and by not taking the radical dogmatic approach of his father, has not alienated as many people (particularly Republicans).

      2. As per usual, I concur that skepticism is a healthy impulse. And this may not be broadly representative of people, but I know that a big part of my own political leanings are heavily influenced by my father (a very capitalist-support and anti-debt and speding fiscal conservative). I would imagine that Rand’s own views are largely an echo of his dad’s, with some differentiation or different prioritization on some issues. (i.e. the Fed being his dad’s top priority, whereas Rand’s would appear to be debt/spending).

  11. Campaign message discipline moving forward won’t be enough; everything Paul ever said in front of a camera or tape recorder will be made part of the campaign by his opponents on both sides.

    That’s the main reason why I’m not particularly sanguin about his chances. Even if he wins the nomination it’ll be 24/7 “Rand Paul’s a racisty racist, homophobic, war on womynz poor hating poopy head, so you better vote for Shillary OMGZ!111!!!!!!”

    Hopefully I’m just being pessimistic, but I doubt it. Too many stupid people exercise their right to vote for it to be otherwise.

    1. Even if he wins the nomination it’ll be 24/7 “Rand Paul’s a racisty racist, homophobic, war on womynz poor hating poopy head, so you better vote for Shillary OMGZ!111!!!!!!”

      Of course, the thing is, they’d try to do that with anyone who won the Republican nomination. Hell, if an amalgam of George Washington and Jesus Christ won the Republican nomination, they’d be telling us how George Christ was a racist, homophobic, woman-hating, poor-hating, poopy-head. It’s worked for them the last couple of times around because posed an argument and, in the absence of issues, the Democrats have learned to win the personality-smearing game.

      1. …the Democrats have learned to win the personality-smearing game.

        It helps them that almost the entire MSM supports them in their smear campaign.

        1. True. But, it also helps them that the Republicans studiously avoid substantively disagreeing with them on policy. In the absence of a policy debate, people are going to pay attention to personality. And the Democrats are very, very, good at playing that game.

  12. “on this most Rand Paul-y of days.” consider “Rand-y”. that is all.

  13. It’s mostly about the difficulties of splitting the difference between the “interesting” (generally, read: libertarian-ish) aspects that made him a relative mediagenic darling on his way up, and appealing to the wide swath of GOP voters and normal Americans who often still find this libertarian stuff scary.

    It’s always good to know that we don’t classify as “normal” Americans.

  14. “Younger evangelicals, [some guy named Wead] says, resonate with Paul’s constitutional federalism, the idea that trying to win values battles in D.C. isn’t the right way to go. Older evangelical leaders in Iowa and elsewhere, he claims, frequently “have kids who are Rand fans.”

    Oh, that’s so cute!

    Sure, they’re not interested in D.C., but DC is very interested in *them.* D.C. wants to *prevent* these naifs from working on the state level.

    If the SoLibs don’t want the SoCons working on the federal level, stop pushing federal initiatives the SoCons oppose.

    It’s not eye surgery, people.

  15. Face it, no one whose ideas are acceptable to mainstream libertarians is going to win the presidency anytime soon. It will take several generations to change that just as it has taken several generations to reduce racism, make pot more acceptable, and treat gays as human beings deserving of individual rights. Remember it has also taken the statists generations to broaden privileges for special classes, reduce personal responsibility, and treat employers as villains.

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