Rand Paul likes to call himself a “constitutional conservative.” I don’t know what that means, nor do I think that mainstream conservative officials or candidates are unconstitutional conservatives. The Wall Street Journal editors aptly makes this point:
[Rand Paul] has now renounced the doubts he expressed last week about some parts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and has declared the matter closed. But before we move on, it’s important to understand why Mr. Paul was wrong even on his own libertarian terms.
The federal laws of that era were necessary and legal interventions to remedy the unconstitutional infringement on individual rights by state and local governments. On Thursday Mr. Paul finally acknowledged this point when he told CNN, “I think there was an overriding problem in the South so big that it did require federal intervention.”
As the editors note, Paul’s difficulty in supporting civil rights legislation not only casts doubt on the Tea Party supporters who have strived to repudiate media claims that they are racists, but it has “let them change the campaign subject from the Obama Administration’s willy-nilly expansion of the corporate state.” Is the real problem, according to Paul, all that federal “meddling” by way of the Fourteenth Amendment, which not only requires nondiscrimination by states but also authorizes Congress to enforce that edict? (If he comes out of hiding, someone in the media can ask him that.)
I’m not sure whether Paul can recover, and I have serious doubts whether he should. As Ross Douthat reminds us, Paul’s grab bag of principles — including radical noninterventionism and hostility to nearly every function of the federal government — are ultimately “self-marginalizing and self-destructive.” Mitch McConnell, I think, knew exactly what he was doing in endorsing the other guy — trying to prevent not only damage to the Tea Party movement and the Republican Party but also to those who revere the Constitution.