Rand Paul

Three Questions About Rand Paul

How his presidential campaign can help or hurt the cause of liberty


It doesn't lead through Iowa and New Hampshire.
Paramount Pictures

I do not expect Rand Paul to win his party's presidential nomination this time around. I also live in a state where you have to be a registered Republican to vote in the GOP primary, so I'm not going to be in a position to cast a ballot for or against him next year anyway—not unless he defies my expectations and becomes the nominee. And I don't have tremendous faith that even a well-meaning president, should such a beast exist, can tame a vast and entrenched system of power.

So the question Would we be better off with Rand Paul as president? isn't particularly important to me right now. I'm more interested in three other issues:

1. What will Rand Paul the presidential candidate do to Rand Paul the senator? It'll be a few more months before we know this for sure, but it looks like Paul won't have to give up his Senate seat to run for president. That's good: Despite Paul's steps closer to the conventional right, he's still miles preferable to pretty much anyone likely to replace him. But in the meantime, Paul's drift toward Hannityville is bound to be reflected in how he votes, what bills he introduces, and, in general, where he chooses to take a stand.

Valuable though it may be to imagine what Paul could do if he's elected president, I spend more time thinking about what he can do with the office he has now. The Senate is a place where just one or two people can put the brakes on a terrible idea—as Paul reportedly did in 2011 by blocking a move toward bringing Georgia into NATO. It will be a shame if Paul's presidential ambitions make him less willing to exercise his power in such ways.

The flipside is that those ambitions may have made him more likely to make big pushes on the issues where he isn't folding. Right now it looks like he's standing by his deviations from GOP orthodoxy on criminal justice. Can that make up for his meeker positions on foreign policy?

I call the left one "ISIS" and the right one "Pentagon spending."
The Rand Paul Store

2. We've watched Rand Paul run toward the other candidates. Is there any chance any of them will run toward him? Segments of the GOP have become interested in criticisms of crony capitalism and mass incarceration. They may not take their critiques as far as a libertarian would prefer, but their shifts are a welcome sight in a party traditionally associated with corporate handouts and chest-beating about law 'n' order. Could Paul amplify those ideas to the point where other candidates start echoing him, the way Paul's father got Newt Gingrich talking about auditing the Federal Reserve? And if so, will any of that progress past election-year rhetoric into actual reforms?

3. Will Rand Paul's movement build the broad movement for liberty? The conventional wisdom about the Paul family holds that Ron ran for president to spread his ideas and build a movement, while Rand is in it to win it. While that's more or less true, it's also true that the elder Paul never expected his 2008 campaign to spark the reaction it did. The aftereffects of that reaction range from the election of a handful of self-proclaimed Ron Paul Republicans to a boom in countercultural libertarian projects far removed from either electoral politics or the Pauls' social conservatism.

State pictured on the left. Movement pictured on the right.
Frans Masereel

Rand Paul understands that exciting the libertarian base isn't going to get him the Republican nomination, so he's currently concerned with courting other constituencies. But perhaps he'll get a lot of libs excited anyway. Perhaps he'll even have a moment like his father's confrontation onstage with Rudy Giuliani in South Carolina, an exchange of words that unexpectedly lit a flame at the grassroots. What then?

In the worst-case scenario, a bunch of libertarian-leaning Americans are diverted from potentially productive activism into a doomed presidential campaign. In the best-case scenario, they're energized not just to work for one candidate but to work for liberty in general. Within the realm of electoral politics, that could mean installing more legislators willing to head for the territories that Sen. Paul presently occupies almost alone, and maybe even some of the territories he once held but beat a retreat.

But Paul won't do that work for the movement if he keeps running away from positions that distinguish him from the dominant strain of his party. That alone should be a good reason for libertarians to hold the senator's feet to the fire. It may be in his best interests to softpedal the stances that could deny him his party's nomination. But his best interests and ours are not always aligned.

NEXT: What HBO's Pickup of a Pot-Focused Web Comedy Says About the Future of Television

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  1. Watching what happened with Obama has me worried. In the beginning he looked like an ideologue and Washington outsider. Granted I didn’t like his ideology, but at least it looked like he might be able to shake things up. But as he got closer to being president he shifted towards many establishment positions and after he became president he refused to shake anything up. Instead he just doubled down on the authoritarianism that has grown over the last century.

    Now Paul seems to be following the same path. I don’t know if there is something about running for president that changes a person, or if presidents are really limited in what they can do and say by some unseen force, or if the presidency just attracts people who are really authoritarians at heart (even if they are good at hiding it at times).

    I’d love it if Paul could win, just to see what he can do. But I won’t be celebrating until he actually does something worthy of it.

    1. if presidents are really limited in what they can do and say by some unseen force

      You mean lizard people? The Bilderbergs? The Trilateral Commission?

      1. Why can’t it be all three? I was thinking more like, just a sense of responsibility once you see what the bureaucratic apparatus looks like from the inside and realize what would happen if you interrupted it too much.

        1. I even wonder sometimes whether there isn’t an element of a gnat landing on the steering wheel of a large ship and realizing that the personal power of the person occupying the office is largely an illusion.

    2. “or if presidents are really limited in what they can do and say by some unseen force”

      Presidential power is absolutely limited but not as much as it should be. I blame congress for that. The job is no douvt overehelminh for anyone. There is a lot of inertia to overcome, a lot of think tanks and special interest fully entrenched, mist who are already better at the game than any one man. There is also the power of the media to contend with. Can he make a difference. Sure. But expectations need to be somewhat realistic. It ain t gonna be the revolution.

      1. That’s what I’m thinking. We like to believe that a sufficiently stubborn president could just refuse to sign things and shut 90% of the apparatus down… but could he enforce it? Just look at how many employees were declared “essential” during the last “shutdown”. It’s not like he can go door to door and lock the buildings up. The little bit of truly essential stuff is mixed with and buried under everything else. No one man can sort it out alone.

        1. That’s why you appoint insane libertarians to all of the offices, right off the bat.

          1. Would even a GOP Senate confirm those people? Would he waste half his first term and what little political capital he has just trying to get his appointees in office?

            1. Actually, there’s usually a decent honeymoon for appointments, even by presidents of the other party. I mean, come on, isn’t one huge gripe about the GOP when it holds the Senate is that it usually ends up confirming all nominees?

              1. True, but if they were going to break that tradition of bending over backwards they would do it for Paul.

                1. Probably. Let Clinton appoint maniacs. Let Obama appoint serial killers. But Paul? Denied.

    3. The night after you declare you’re running, then reptilians wake you up in the middle of the night and make it clear what they’re going to do to your family if you don’t start playing ball.

      1. They show you pictures of the Titanic sinking and the Challenger blowing up… from space!

      2. don’t start playing ball.

        Don’t you mean golf?

  2. Going to be a long year and a half.

    1. I wish someone would chart the length of the campaign season and do a regression analysis so we can estimate when the season will exceed 4 years. I plan to be dead before then, so I’d like to know how long I’ve got…

      1. Lol:)

      2. I think Hilary Clinton may have already done that.

        1. What, Pan, already killed some guy?

          1. I just don’t know it yet…

          2. I meant campaign season over 4 years, but hey, if some guy needs killing, even if he don’t know it…

  3. A politician is acting like a politician?




    1. But what is he like in his heart of hearts? Is he just faking it in hopes that he’ll win? Probably not, but he’s still the best major party candidate in my living memory.

      1. I’m still trying to figure out what it is people here think he’s changed his mind about

        1. Something about SoCons and Iran.

          1. I think he’s moved a bit towards the standard GOP foreign policy. Still pretty good on it, in general, though.

            He’s definitely pandering to the religious right more now, but maybe that’s just because he never really needed to (or we just never saw him do it) while running in state elections.

            1. He’s definitely pandering to the religious right

              Dude…he’s an avowed member of that particular subset. This ain’t news.

            2. and I’m curious as to what you consider “pandering”. Calling for a national religion? exactly what do you mean? He’s an admitted Christian. Christians sometimes talk about their religion. It’s sort of a big deal to them. How is that a surprise?

        2. He is certainly re-framing his positions to appeal to the heffalump base. His increase in DoD funding was highlighted, but recall it is tied to other decreases.

  4. Hannityville


    1. The horror!

      1. The Hannityville Horror?

        1. Nice.

          1. The horror.

            (I might be doing this wrong)

  5. Nah, Paul comes across as unusually principled for a politician and has walked much of the libertarian walk while in office. Obama did NONE OF THE ABOVE. It’s easy to toss your principles when you don’t have any.

    1. unusually principled for a politician

      This is like being named the world’s tallest midget.

      1. they prefer to be called hobbits.

        1. +1 Bullroarer Took

      2. True, but it beats the unusually unprincipled we’ve been enduring lately.

  6. Sigh. This is getting increasingly ridiculous.

    Look, Rand Paul is not his father. He isn’t a proxy for his father. He never said he was.

    Imagine for a moment that ron Paul didn’t exist (or at least didn’t exist in a political context). What would Rand Paul be? He’d be a pretty (actually very, in relative terms) libertarian Senator running for President. Is he as libertarian as most here? Probably not. Is he more libertarian than pretty much anyone else you’re likely to actually get? Almost certainly.

    1. Look, Rand Paul is not his father. He isn’t a proxy for his father

      Some of us think that is a good thing.

      1. Personally, I don’t think it’s a particularly good or bad thing. It’s just what is.

        A lot of people assumed that because he’s pretty libertarian, he’s a hard-line libertarian. I don’t think that’s the case. I think he’s more libertarian than almost anyone else in DC (Amash excepted), by an order of magnitude. But, that still only makes him loosely libertarian.

  7. Rand can’t do much, if elected. He will, however, have the bully pulpit. He will have the chance to talk liberty on national news every day if he wants. He will also have the power to veto. He will also have the power to end police actions. He will also have the choice of AG, Sec Of State, etc. Potentially (definitely?) appoint supreme court judge, not to mention how many others.

    There is power to do good by choosing people who will do less.

    1. He can do quite a bit, even assuming he won’t use the usurped powers of the executive to wreak havoc. We’ve created an imperial presidency and bureaucracy, and he could go quite a ways in dismantling that, especially since much of it was never legal in the first place.

      1. That’s part of my “elect me and I’ll show you how someone can get impeached in 3 months” platform.

        Vote for me and I’ll set up an office to issue full pardons to anyone ever convicted of victimless consensual crimes – like drug possession or prostitution. Retroactive for all time – so if you are 60 and you have a conviction from the 70’s, you get a pardon and don’t have to answer “yes” to “have you ever been convicted”..

        That would be enough to earn that impeachment. But wait! There’s more!

        All unreasonably long sentences still being served would be commuted – like that kid we read about the other day who got 98 years for two video store robberies that took place in a single night.

        There would be sure to be some evil-doers among those guys. But right is right, and wrong is wrong.

        Then we have drug legalization. I’d do everything possible to end the blanket prohibition on intoxicants. Including rescheduling things like pot.

        If that didn’t do it, it would be time to target a different crowd. Can’t privatize Social Security by myself, but I could wipe out the domestic spying programs and eviscerate the USA Patriot act. I could also shut down the commerce and labor departments – for starters. I could refuse to sign any budget over 15% of gdp. Even if it meant shutting down the government until the impeachment was over.

        In short, I think I could make that 3 month impeachment happen. I’m a uniter!

        1. You’ve got my vote.

        2. That ain’t nuthin’. Elect me & I’ll pardon anyone who kills anyone who stands in my way. 1 man, 1 vote, 1 time. I’m locking the door behind me & burying the key.

  8. If he did nothing else but end Prohibition….

    1. day 1 in office- massive pardon list!

      How amazing would that be! (don’t wake me up, I’m dreaming.)

      1. “day 1 in office- massive pardon list!”

        +1 Iron Web

  9. 2. We’ve watched Rand Paul run toward the other candidates.
    Ahaa! So that is where he was going!

    1. The disabled YouTube comments certainly show a sincere desire to have an open discussion about the question “Where does Rand Paul Stand on Immigration?”

      1. The disabled YouTube comments certainly show a sincere desire to have an open discussion

        Open discussion is not the same as thoughtful, or even “not completely retarded” discussion. Youtube comments do not really even rise to the level of “discussion”. Comparing it to monkeys slinging shit is unfair to monkeys.

        1. It seems Matt Hildreth picked a somewhat inappropriate venue to post this video and ask his question, if he thinks his viewers are simply too stupid to comment or attempt to answer it?

          1. You’ve obviously not read many youtube comment sections. The average IQ of commenters is about 60. If you take out the few people who are genuinely interested out of the comments it drops to about 40. Marshall’s monkeys could make the comments and it likely be more interesting and on topic.

  10. Third Question: What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

    1. What do you mean? An African or European swallow?

    2. Look, it’s the man from scene twenty four!

  11. oh nooooz Hillary is moving toward the left

    (AP/Seth Wenig)Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US economy requires a “toppling” of the wealthiest 1%, according to a New York Times report published Tuesday.


    1. Yeah, I bet. They haven’t damaged the economy enough with their theft and redistribution, have they?

    2. Does she include the Clintons in that?

      1. Leftists can’t be wealthy, by definition.

        1. No politician can. Just ask Christie.

    3. When she gave that giant wink at the camera, that was meant for her fellow 1-percenters, not for the rest of us.

      1. I thought that was Palin.

  12. But his best interests and ours

    Who is this ‘ours’ of which you speak?

  13. Reason is giving Paul the same treatment I usually expect from the fans of some indy band once they get on mainstream radio.

    1. Yes, they are. And possibly for the same reason.

    2. The Roots are a useful model here. I doubt any hardcore Illadelphian holds it against them for becoming the house band on The Tonight Show. Yet any hip hop fan that lived in the 90’s knows the Roots are awesome and held plenty of street cred. So did they sell out? Did they run to the middle to grab mainstream cred? Or was their material that good that it commanded main streamers to take notice?

      Rand can be The Roots, I say.

  14. Main thing is to have a principled President who might garnered enough public opinion to give cover to a right leaning congress that will start turning the ship. The two that seem most engaged in a philosophy of liberty and the principles that emanate from it are Cruz and Rand. With some luck, maybe one of them will be capable of presenting the case well enough to win the nomination.

    Here’s a wish: Warren against one of these two. Put all the chips in. Let’s see where this country really is. The winner would probably have a mandate.

    1. Problem is, there aren’t 20 real conservatives in congress. You’ve got a handful of libertarianish/conservative-ish guys and that’s it. Everyone else is in love with crony capitalism, whatever else they claim to believe be damned.

      Cruz or Paul would have some pretty serious clashes with the congress. If one were to win, they might be able to do some ju-jitsu on the congress by getting some civil liberty stuff done with the democrats. Then they could legitimately do some arm twisting on fiscal responsibility.

      But my money would still be on the big statist machine. We just witnessed that 3 billion dollar grab by wall street and the auto industry across the Bush and Obama administrations. No reason to think those forces have abated.

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  17. Interesting idea … The executive branch can’t spend any money that hasn’t been appropriated, but it doesn’t have to spend all of it that is. Something else a President could do pretty much on his own or via appointments. Anyone know what the law is on that? Also, does exiting a treaty also require Senatorial confirmation?

    In addition to, of course, rolling back the executive orders/actions/whatevers, vetos and appointments.

    A President doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have a lot of positive powers, but he’s sure got negative and preferential ones.

  18. My impression with the grumbling of many libertarians is that they are upset that Rand doesn’t agree with them on every issue, which cannot be expected of any candidate, libertarian or not, given human nature and the diversity of opinion.

    It seems many libertarians are falling into the trap of thinking he’s turned into some kind of neoconservative because of the rhetorical compromises he’s made. I happen to think his change in rhetoric is very necessary, because you have to meet the other person where they are and learn to speak their language if you are going to successfully persuade them. I think this was the major flaw of Ron, which led many Republicans to think of him as being crazy since he didn’t speak their language (and oftentimes just didn’t communicate that well).

    At the end of the day there are only a limited number of real candidates to choose from, and it is rational to pick the one that is expected to result in the best outcome, even in cases where it is painful to vote for the person; at least we get to have a primary. To refuse to participate because there is no perfect candidate is to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face. If libertarians refuse to vote because no candidate meets some ridiculous litmus test, then they will only be making themselves irrelevant.

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