Though Rand Paul didn’t set any records in his 13-hour filibuster, there was at least one era-defining moment. It may sound silly, but when fellow GOP Senator Ted Cruz helped sustain the filibuster by reading tweets about the filibuster that used the hashtag inspired by that very filibuster, he marked an interesting notch on America’s political timeline. It was also, as Tim Groseclose pointed out at Ricochet, an interesting “reverse” homage to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Beyond the social media aspect of it, there was also the relative youth of the senators taking part in the filibuster who went a long way yesterday to solidifying the generational shift currently underway in the GOP. This is not your father’s Republican Party was the very clear message (and not only because Marco Rubio quoted his favorite rap artists at one point). We have been, as have many in the world of political journalism, writing about the 2016 presidential race even as we add the caveat that it is early and things can (and probably will) change. But the basic assumptions outlining those articles have always included Rand Paul and Marco Rubio as two anchors of the opposing sides in the foreign policy debates that would unfold if both men choose to vie for the next Republican presidential nomination. As Rubio showed yesterday by supporting Paul’s filibuster, there will be some overlap in the political positions of the two senators. Paul is not his father; nonetheless, he and Rubio do seem to fundamentally disagree on America’s role in the world.
Back in November, I wrote that Rand Paul’s presidential hopes would be a difficult sale to pro-Israel conservatives and Republicans. Paul’s opposition to U.S. aid to Israel and an isolationist mindset that was highly reminiscent of the views of his extremist father, the former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, would seem to make his potential ascent in the GOP a troubling development for Jewish Republicans. While the exchange between us on the question of his attitude toward Israel may not have changed many minds, his recent trip to Israel is a clear indication that the Kentucky senator is serious about running for president.
Paul’s visit to the Jewish state was part of an effort to reposition himself as a friend of Israel, and there are some pro-Israel voices that seem inclined to take him at his word. There’s a lot to like about his criticism of President Obama’s attempts to dictate security policy to the Netanyahu government as well as the fact that he seems to be moving in the right direction on ties between the two countries. Yet it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that anyone inclined to buy into the idea that he should be thought of as a reliable friend of Israel is acting like a very cheap date for the presidential wannabe. Rand Paul may not exactly be a chip off the old block when it comes to the expressions of hostility and willingness to demonize Israel. But his positions on aid and, even more importantly, on broader foreign policy concepts are still far away from anything that the pro-Israel community would recognize as acceptable.
Last week we noted that if Rand Paul wanted to be a serious presidential contender as opposed to a libertarian gadfly he was going to have to distance himself from his father’s extreme anti-Israel views. No one should be holding their breath waiting for the Kentucky senator to speak a word against Ron Paul, but there’s no question he is preparing to cast himself as a different kind of candidate in 2016. To that end, not only did he take the trouble to engage in an exchange with COMMENTARY about his views on Israel, but as Business Insider reported last week, he is also planning a trip to the Jewish state next month.
Trips to Israel by senators and members of Congress are so common that they are hardly newsworthy. But for a devoted opponent of military aid to the Jewish state to be journeying there for the first time is a clear sign that Rand Paul wants to be seen as someone whose views on foreign policy are not the sort of grab bag of libertarian cant and isolationism that characterizes his father’s stance. Even more telling is that Paul will be accompanied on his trip by a group of evangelical leaders. The signal being given here is that the senator wants to be seen by the Republican base as a mainstream conservative and not a libertarian outlier.
Last week, Senator Rand Paul went to some lengths to try and convince readers of COMMENTARY that the qualms that I expressed about his record on Israel were unfounded. Suffice it to say that I think despite his expressions of friendship to the Jewish state, most Republicans, as well as most Americans, are going to have a hard time reconciling his opposition to military aid to Israel as well as support for defense cuts and a reduced role for America around the world with the idea that he supports the alliance. But if the senator is serious about convincing his party that he can be relied upon to have Israel’s back, he has a much bigger problem than anything I have to say about the issue: his father, Rep. Ron Paul.
Though Senator Paul has tried to carve out a different, more establishment-friendly niche for himself in Washington than his gadfly father, his support for the latter’s presidential runs and clear admiration for the man’s principles and positions are a matter of record. And in case anyone forgot about the erstwhile presidential challenger’s stands on Israel, he gave us a reminder today with a blog post on his official congressional website. Titled, “How to End the Tragedy in Gaza,” Rep. Paul does not blame Hamas for starting the latest fighting. Instead, he blames Israel and, more to the point, American backing for Israel, for enabling the conflict. Though his son has not said anything like that in recent years, this is the sort of false and destructive rhetoric that is catnip to many of the extremist libertarians who form the family fan base and who will, no doubt, be the foot soldiers in Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential run. While it may be unfair to expect any man to distance himself from his father, unless the senator makes a clear effort to disavow his father’s positions on the Middle East, his attempts to portray himself as a friend to Israel will flop.
Last week, I wrote about the potential impact that the growing influence of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will have on the ability of Republicans to portray themselves as a solidly pro-Israel party. Senator Paul has written to respond to that piece. My response follows.
Jonathan S. Tobin’s Nov. 9 column, “Will Rand Paul Hijack the Pro-Israel GOP?” makes some wildly speculative assumptions about me, my positions concerning our ally, Israel, and the Republican Party’s future. Since Mr. Tobin took it upon himself to image some of my positions, I thought it best to set the record straight by stating what they actually are.
Some old stalwarts—Gary Ackerman and Howard Berman, for example—are leaving the U.S. House of Representatives, Ackerman voluntarily and Berman after an election defeat. The 112th Congress will also see the departure of some its most eccentric members: Dennis Kucinich lost a bitter primary battle, and Ron Paul is retiring. On November 14, Paul gave his farewell address, and it was vintage Paul. While I’m sympathetic to his libertarian approach on social issues, value individual liberty, and embrace the concept of a small, lean government, I also believe in the necessity of a strong military. Paul’s rambling conspiracies regarding AIPAC and his fierce isolationism have always turned me off as have, frankly, the even nuttier approaches of some of his followers.
Still, Paul’s address should be a must-read. As Alana Goodman pointed out, his son, Senator Rand Paul, is a likely presidential candidate in 2016 and wants very much to revamp the Republican Party. Paul can count on his father’s supporters, and then some, as he understands how to package himself as a mainstream candidate without any of his father’s “crazy uncle” excesses.
Jonathan wrote last week about Rand Paul’s 2016 ambitions, and what this means for the pro-Israel GOP. Now get ready for what Politico dubs the “Rand Paul evolution,” the younger Paul’s effort to steer the GOP in the direction championed by his father:
In an interview with POLITICO, Paul said he’ll return to Congress this week pushing measures long avoided by his party. He wants to work with liberal Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy and Republicans to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for pot possession. He wants to carve a compromise immigration plan with an “eventual path” to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a proposal he believes could be palatable to conservatives. And he believes his ideas — along with pushing for less U.S. military intervention in conflicts overseas — could help the GOP broaden its tent and appeal to crucial voting blocs that handed Democrats big wins in the West Coast, the Northeast and along the Great Lakes.
“We have three big regions where we’re not competitive,” Paul said. “And we have to be competitive in those regions.” ….
Now, Paul appears to want a more influential role in his party than simply the bomb-throwing back-bencher with a penchant for grabbing headlines. Unlike his father, retiring Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who toiled on the GOP fringes for years and battled with the party establishment, the younger Paul seems to have developed political savvy in dealing with GOP leaders.
As Politico notes, Paul hasn’t had much legislative luck with the “tea party agenda” he campaigned on in 2010. But Paul is trying to take a leading role Congress’s illegal immigration debate. His proposal calls for coupling a long-term “path to citizenship” with a concurrent total lockdown on legal immigration. In other words, a plan that rewards illegal immigrants while punishing foreigners who want to come to the U.S. legally.
For the past generation, Republicans have been able to argue with justice that their party is more consistently pro-Israel than that of the Democrats. That wasn’t just the result of President Obama’s antagonism toward Jerusalem and George W. Bush’s friendship. Rather, it was an acknowledgement that a significant portion of the influential left wing of the Democrats was hostile to the Jewish state, while those few Republicans who were not friends of Zion had been marginalized. While Pat Buchanan had been more or less kicked out of the GOP in the 1990s, left-wingers like the ones who booed the adoption of a platform plank on Jerusalem at the Democratic National Convention this year were numerous and not without a voice in the party’s councils. But that may be about to change.
Republicans are congratulating themselves on breaking the 30 percent mark in their share of the Jewish vote this year, even though they could point to Barack Obama’s problematic relationship with Israel. As I pointed out on Wednesday, anyone who assumes the GOP will continue to gain ground among Jewish voters needs to remember that they won’t have that advantage four years from now. But the really bad news is that the coming battle for the soul of the Republican Party will make it clear that a significant portion of the GOP probably shouldn’t be characterized as part of the pro-Israel consensus. With the retirement of Rep. Ron Paul from electoral politics, the baton of the libertarian extremist/isolationist camp will pass to his son Rand, the senator from Kentucky. The younger Paul is more politically astute and probably a lot more marketable to a mainstream audience than his father was. But he is no less opposed to a mindset that sees a strong America and a strong alliance with Israel as integral to U.S. foreign policy than the older libertarian. That makes it entirely possible that under Rand’s leadership, radical libertarians will move from the fever swamps of the GOP to the mainstream. That’s bad news for the Republican Party, and could make their efforts to attract more pro-Israel and Jewish voters even more futile than they have been in the past.
When libertarians (and Libertarians) object that despite the popularity of some of their causes they are not taken seriously as a voting constituency by the two major American parties, it’s easy to see where they’re coming from. Republicans and Democrats seem to hate the TSA’s invasive and pervasive screening process; opposition to the drug war is growing in both camps; and the popularity of gay marriage on the left and opposition to Obamacare on the right would seem to remind voters on both sides of the political divides of their libertarian streaks.
Yet they are unloved. Instead of finding the Koch brothers convenient allies given their social libertarianism and dedication to funding the arts, the left has turned the Kochs into the villains of the election cycle, offering some of the most ignorant and self-defeating politics of personal destruction in years. And now Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president, claims to be shut out by the GOP and feels that his voice has been trampled by Republicans who fear he could cut into Mitt Romney’s vote share in several key states. The New York Timesreports:
Throughout the winter and spring, supporters of defeated libertarian extremist Rep. Ron Paul were fond of claiming that they had the power to either disrupt the Republican National Convention or generate enough defections in November to sabotage the mainstream GOP’s efforts to win back the presidency. Though the Paulbots managed to amuse some bored members of the press corps at the Tampa convention, their attempts to gain attention barely deserved to be called a distraction. Their threats about affecting the vote in the general election appear to be even emptier as polling showed that much of Paul’s limited support came from Democrats crossing over to participate in GOP primaries and caucuses. However, it appears that the libertarian fringe could actually materially affect the outcome in a way that no one seems to have foreseen.
As the Associated Press reports today, three of the Republicans who will become members of the Electoral College should Mitt Romney win their states are now saying they will refuse to vote for the Republican. All three are Paul backers who somehow managed to be appointed to this usually symbolic post but who have the power to thwart the will of the voters if that is their pleasure. Two are from potential tossup states, Iowa and Nevada. Another is from Texas, a state certain to go Republican this fall. All profess to be not merely disgusted with Romney’s relatively moderate stands on the issues but angry with some of the petty slights dealt out to Paul delegates in Tampa. Together, they could deprive Romney of a majority should the election turn out to be a nail-biter. If this happens, those in the GOP leadership who insisted on net letting Paul’s name be placed in nomination or in counting the votes cast for him will rue their decisions.
In an interview with CBS, Sen. Rand Paul argued that the GOP’s “bomb everyone tomorrow” policy is hurting it on the East and West coasts:
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Monday that Republicans can win in New England and on the West Coast if they’re willing to drop a “we need to bomb everybody tomorrow” foreign policy.
“I think one of the problems we face, as a Republican party, is that we’re behind the eight-ball to begin with,” Paul said on CBS’ “This Morning.” “We’re not winning the West Coast. We’re not winning New England. Maybe we need to embrace more Ron Paul Republicans, more libertarian Republicans. … It means people who are little bit less aggressive on foreign policy. They believe in defending the country, but they don’t believe we need to be everywhere all the time.”
If the Obama’s election illustrated anything, it’s that there’s not a major difference between the GOP and Democratic Party when it comes to a general willingness to intervene and a willingness to use force.
Sen. Rand Paul often shies away from deep foreign policy discussions. It’s a smart move, since his father’s toxic positions stunted his own rise in the GOP. But in an interview with Politico, Rand praised the elder Paul’s radical speech on Sunday, which promoted the “blowback” theory, blasted “neocons,” and suggested that the U.S. invited the 9/11 attacks:
The younger Paul shares his father’s foreign policy broadly, and he praised him especially Sunday for talking about the convent “blowback” – the concept that U.S. meddling overseas can lead to terrorist attacks.
Ron Paul is apparently making Republicans nervous — either because they’re worried his over-exuberant fans will disrupt the festivities today, or because they’re gunning for the libertarian vote in November (I’m guessing the former, since Romney’s not much competition for Gary Johnson).
Whatever the reason, Paul Ryan offered an olive branch to the Paulbots in a Fox News interview yesterday (h/t Jeff Poor):
“[Ron Paul and I] see eye to eye on a lot of issues,” Ryan said. “We believe in sound money. We believe in economic freedom. We believe in the founding principles. We believe this is a watersheds moment for America, whether we are going to reclaim the American idea or a cradle-to-grave welfare state which is where I think the president is taking us. So, I think in the final analysis Ron, he and his supporters should be comfortable with us.”
“Ron is a friend of mine,” Ryan added.
“I have known him a long time in Congress. And so at the end of the day it is a choice between the president’s failed leadership, the big government that he is offering, the borrowing that he is offering, the spending and regulating that he is offering, which will give us a stagnant economy, a lost generation, not just a lost decade, and the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan plan of reclaiming our founding principles, getting back to economic freedom and liberty and reviving this economy.”
As Alana noted, Ron Paul’s speech at his Tampa rally yesterday was an appropriate swan song to a political career during which the Texas congressman has promoted a view of foreign policy that would probably earn more applause from left-wing Democrats than Republicans. Paul won’t speak at the Republican convention this week, but the 177 delegates he won will be there and the media is counting on them to provide a more interesting story line than the scheduled speakers will provide. But given the rules and the “nosebleed” seats being assigned to those state delegations where Paul supporters are numerous, it’s not clear that the adherents to what Paul calls his “liberty movement” will be able to cause much trouble.
The extremist libertarian has to walk a fine line as he defies the Romney camp this week. He doesn’t want to do anything that will sour Republicans on the future ambitions of his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who will (unlike his father) be speaking from the podium. But Paul is as little interested in the traditional courtesies as President Obama and won’t release his delegates to vote for the party’s choice. Nor do the delegates themselves seem inclined to play along with the RNC’s infomercial script. They are hoping to find a way to circumvent the rules and either place Paul’s name in nomination or at least cast their votes for him, rather than let the convention’s choice be unanimous. But those looking to inflate these tiffs into high drama are bound to be disappointed. All Paul’s delegate can really do is act disgruntled about rules changes that will hurt future libertarian challenges and vent their frustration for a liberal press that will happily lap it up.
Ron Paul has given us plenty of entertainment throughout the years, and his farewell rally speech was no exception. BuzzFeed reports that Paul continued to spout his “chickens coming home to roost” theory about the Sept. 11 attacks at his alternative convention event yesterday:
That blowback theory is so convenient. If Israel created Hamas and the U.S. invited the 9/11 attacks, then world peace is within grasp, if only we could get over our own “hubris.”
Remember last winter when some smart people were sufficiently spooked by what seemed like a stalemate in the Republican presidential race to predict a brokered convention? Of course, that didn’t happen. But even after it became clear early on that Mitt Romney was going to be the nominee, we still heard fearsome premonitions of how Ron Paul’s supporters were going to disrupt the convention. While the media will be keeping an eye on Paul’s band of pledged delegates in Tampa, the notion that they have the ability to hijack Romney’s party turns out to be another myth. Indeed, with Nebraska, the last state to select its delegates, holding its state convention this past weekend, it became clear Paul’s forces would not even be able to place his name in nomination.
As Politico reports, by failing to win a plurality of the delegates picked at the Nebraska GOP conclave, Paul won’t have effective control of at least five delegations in Tampa, which is the minimum required for being allowed to place a candidate’s name before the convention even as a symbolic gesture. That may strike some as unfair considering that although Paul won only 158 delegates, he still got a lot of primary votes. But the point is such expectations are the product of a bygone era. National political conventions stopped being deliberative bodies a couple of generations ago. The parties have crafted rules that not only make a deadlock highly unlikely; they also are geared toward squelching symbolic or protest candidacies. That makes it hard for outliers to disrupt the nominee’s parties but has also had the ancillary effect of rendering the conventions unwatchable and unimportant.
During the long winter nights when Ron Paul and his boisterous supporters were raising hell in caucus states, one of the regular themes sounded by many mainstream media political observers was the damage the libertarian outlier was doing to the Republican brand and ultimately the party’s chances of defeating Barack Obama. Paul’s cheering throngs were loud and clear at the GOP’s presidential debates, and his strong showing in Iowa seemed to presage a dangerous extremist tilt to the opposition party.
But today, as Paul announced that he would no longer be campaigning in the remaining primary and caucus states, those warnings ring hollow. Paul may have had his moments during a fractious race, and his supporters will continue to make nuisances of themselves at state conventions, but in the end, his remained a symbolic candidacy that had little appeal to most Republicans. His libertarians will probably be heard from again in four or eight years if his son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, takes the torch from his father and tries his luck at the presidential game. And some will claim he influenced the race and made great strides during his previous presidential runs. But the fact remains that his efforts fell flat as soon as the real voting started. Ron Paul ends his presidential run pretty much the way he began it: as someone outside the broad consensus of the Republican Party.
While most people have been focused on the general election news, Ron Paul has quietly continued to rack up delegates in the Republican primaries. This weekend he pulled off two delegate majority victories at the Maine and Nevada conventions, causing some to wonder what exactly he’s aiming for:
As we noted Sunday, this means Mr. Paul’s strategy of organizing the grass roots and working arcane delegate selection rules is paying off. And that could mean big trouble for Mitt Romney and his plans to smoothly pivot to a campaign aimed solely at incumbent President Obama.
Yes, Mr. Romney is still the presumptive nominee. It’s highly unlikely Paul will be able to deny the former Massachusetts governor the prize he’s sought for so long. But Paul’s forces aren’t lining up and saluting a Romney victory. When they show up in Tampa in August they may be strong enough, and prepared enough, to throw the convention floor into embarrassing disarray.
The mainstream media’s liberal bias long ago ceased to be a matter of debate. Other than the conservative strongholds of talk radio and Fox News, few pundits even bother to argue anymore that the overwhelming majority of their platforms tilt to the left. But that still doesn’t stop some of them from trying to deny the obvious. A prime example comes today from the normally sober Howard Kurtz, who writes in the Daily Beast to claim that President Obama has received more unfavorable press coverage than the Republican candidates during the recent GOP nomination contest.
Kurtz bases his assertion on a study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism that analyzed the positive and negative treatment of the president and the candidates in the press during the last few months. But the main takeaway from their data is not so much that the press was filled with Obama-bashing — a result that was generated mostly by the fact that all the GOP candidates were critical of the president — but that his normally adoring press corps covered him more like a candidate than a commander-in-chief. That might have more to do with the fact that Obama has been spent more time in the last year playing the partisan than governing. A more insightful conclusion about the press and Obama came from an unlikely source — Arthur Brisbane, the public editor of the New York Times – who wrote yesterday to call out his own paper for their fawning and biased coverage of the president.
Despite Mitt Romney’s less-than-exceptional performance last night, neither Newt Gingrich nor Rick Santorum has a viable path to the nomination from here. At Frontloading HQ, Josh Putnam crunches the numbers and finds that while it’s not mathematically impossible for either candidate to get to the 1144 delegates needed to win, the chances are so low that it might as well be.
For Santorum, the possibility is more likely if Gingrich – who has been trailing in the race, but still siphoning off potential Santorum supporters – drops out. The Wall Street Journaldescribes the impact this had on the primaries last night:
Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich effectively split the southern states in Tuesday’s contest: The former Pennsylvania senator won in Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota, and the former House speaker claimed the richest delegate prize in his home state of Georgia. Mr. Santorum also claimed North Dakota. Both men used the results to argue they were the conservative alternative to Mr. Romney. …
Mr. Gingrich has siphoned off just enough votes in key states to cost Mr. Santorum wins and delegates, [campaign strategist] Mr. Brabender said. In last week’s Michigan primary, Mr. Santorum lost to Mr. Romney by 3 percentage points.