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Topic: Rand Paul

Rand Paul’s Flat Tax Plan II

When I wrote about Senator Rand Paul’s new tax plan that he outlined in the Wall Street Journal on June 17th, I wrote that he advocated a 14.5 percent tax on both individual and corporate incomes. But that turns out to be not quite true, for Paul was more than a little disingenuous, as the New York Times pointed out Tuesday morning.  Read More

When I wrote about Senator Rand Paul’s new tax plan that he outlined in the Wall Street Journal on June 17th, I wrote that he advocated a 14.5 percent tax on both individual and corporate incomes. But that turns out to be not quite true, for Paul was more than a little disingenuous, as the New York Times pointed out Tuesday morning. 

Paul wrote,

I would also apply this uniform 14.5% business-activity tax on all companies—down from as high as nearly 40% for small businesses and 35% for corporations. This tax would be levied on revenues minus allowable expenses, such as the purchase of parts, computers and office equipment. All capital purchases would be immediately expensed, ending complicated depreciation schedules.

Since he is talking about bringing the taxes on corporations “down from as high as nearly 40 percent…” most people read that to mean the corporate income tax would be reduced to 14.5 percent. But notice, which I did not, the phrase “business-activity tax.” That is a euphemism for a value-added tax, or VAT. And a VAT is a very different beast than a corporate income tax.

The corporate income tax is laid on corporate profits. If a corporation makes a pretax profit of $1 million, it would owe the government $350,000 in taxes (ignoring all the infinite complications of the tax code). Since corporations are pieces of paper, corporate income taxes are actually paid by stockholders, in lower profits; workers, in lower wages; and customers, in higher prices. The particular distribution of the tax burden depends on the particular competitive situation of the company. (Figure out a formula for reliably determining the distribution in each case and you will have a Nobel Economics Prize on your mantel.)

A VAT works very differently. To oversimplify for purposes of illustration, say a bakery buys a plain cake for $2.00 and icing for $1.00. It ices the cake and plans to sell it for $5.00, a “value added” of $2.00. But with a VAT of 14.5 percent, the price tag on the cake would be $5.73. That 73 cents in tax is paid entirely by the customer. In other words, a VAT is a consumption tax not an income tax at all. Lay a 14.5 percent VAT and the price of everything goes up 14.5 percent the next morning. It would be indistinguishable from a severe bout of inflation.

And consumption taxes are inherently regressive, falling more heavily on the poor than on the rich and, indeed, the poorer you are, the more heavily they fall on you. The poor, by definition, must spend their entire income on necessities. So a VAT tax of 14.5 percent would reduce the purchasing power of the poor by 14.5 percent. Thanks, Senator. The rich, on the other hand, do not spend all their income, and the richer they are, the less of their income they spend, banking the rest. If a family has a take-home income of $10 million, they might live like kings on $2 million a year and add $8 million to their capital. So the man just getting by pays tax on 100 percent of his income while the Wall Street banker pays taxes on 20 percent of his income.

Governments love the VAT tax because, unlike a sales tax, which shows up on the receipt, it is hidden in the price of everything. Thus, it is politically easier to raise it as, again, it would appear as inflation. Every member of the OECD has a VAT, including Canada (5 percent) except the United States. We should keep it that way and not increase the tax burden on the poor.

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Rand Paul’s Flat Tax Plan

In an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, Senator Rand Paul calls for repealing the entire U.S. Tax Code and starting over. He proposes what he calls a “fair and flat tax” that would have one rate, 14.5 percent, on all income with no deductions except for mortgages, charitable gifts, and a personal deduction of $50,000 for a family of four. He would also tax corporations at 14.5 percent, with deductions limited to the direct cost of doing business. Capital purchases would be expensed in the year they are bought, eliminating the complicated and arbitrary depreciation schedules.

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In an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal, Senator Rand Paul calls for repealing the entire U.S. Tax Code and starting over. He proposes what he calls a “fair and flat tax” that would have one rate, 14.5 percent, on all income with no deductions except for mortgages, charitable gifts, and a personal deduction of $50,000 for a family of four. He would also tax corporations at 14.5 percent, with deductions limited to the direct cost of doing business. Capital purchases would be expensed in the year they are bought, eliminating the complicated and arbitrary depreciation schedules.

Although I would prefer eliminating the corporate income tax altogether, for reasons I explained in my own Journal op-ed a few months ago, Paul’s plan would be a huge improvement on the current tax system. Actually, of course, it is anything but systematic, the code having grown from 14 pages in 1913 to 70,000 today. It was amended a staggering 4,130 times just between 2001 and 2010, most of them undoubtedly highly targeted tax favors for the powerful . See here to find out how the country got into this mess.

The great virtue of the plan would be its simplicity, and simplicity is at least as great a virtue as fairness. It should take the average family no more time to fill out the necessary tax form than it would to write the check. More, it would make the mutual back scratching between campaign-money-hungry politicians and their wealthy supporters impossible. For just as the best place to hide a book is in a library, so the best place to hide a political tax favor is in a 70,000-page tax code. Thousands of lobbyists, tax lawyers, and tax accountants would lose their jobs, not something that makes me inconsolable with grief.

The main criticism of a flat tax is that it is, well, flat. The middle-class guy and the billionaire would pay at the same rate, 14.5 percent.  But actually that’s not true, for the marginal rate (the tax on the last dollar of income) is flat but the effective tax rate (the percentage of income taxed away) most certainly is not. Using Senator Paul’s proposed tax plan, a family of four earning $50,000 would pay no taxes at all. One earning $60,000, would pay $1450, or 2.4 percent of income. A family earning $100,000 would pay $7250, or 7.2 percent of income. At $1 million, the tax would be $137,750 or 13.8 percent of income.

Perhaps the greatest thing about the flat tax is that it is actually progressive, the effective rate rising steadily from 0 percent at $50,000 to 13.8 percent at $1,000,000. Our present, so-called progressive tax system is very often no such thing, for the thousands and thousands of tax favors hidden in the code give many of the very rich a lower effective rate than their middle class neighbors.

You would think that self-styled progressives would favor a tax reform that would make the federal income tax actually progressive. But they don’t.

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The Self-Contradictory ‘Stand’ Against the PATRIOT Act

“Had the program been in place more than a decade ago, it would likely have prevented 9/11. And it has the potential to prevent the next 9/11.” Read More

“Had the program been in place more than a decade ago, it would likely have prevented 9/11. And it has the potential to prevent the next 9/11.”

So wrote Mike Morrell, the CIA’s former acting director, about section 215 of the Patriot Act, which authorizes the National Security Agency to search telephone “metadata” (i.e., connections between telephone numbers not the content of calls) to ferret out terrorists. Now section 215 is no more. After a delay of two days, in which the Senate let the PATRIOT Act lapse altogether, Senators finally swallowed their Castrol oil and approved a new and more restricted version of the telephone metadata program.

No longer will the NSA be able to keep records of phone calls in its own databases where they can be swiftly searched. Now the NSA will need to apply for a court order to search records which are kept by the phone companies — although how long the companies are supposed to keep the records or in what form remains unclear.

This is not the end of the world. It is, in fact, more or less the result advocated by Morrell and a panel of other experts appointed by President Obama to study the issue after the Edward Snowden revelations. (Although Morrell wrote that “personally” he would like to expand “the Section 215 program to include all telephone metadata (the program covers only a subset of the total calls made) as well as e-mail metadata (which is not in the program),” but he was not allowed to make that suggestion because it did not “fall under the same constraints recommended by the review group.”

But it is also a classic Washington solution in search of a problem.

What exactly was the problem with the current metadata program which has been part of the homeland security architecture keeping us largely safe since 9/11? Nothing beyond the unfounded hype generated by the likes of Ed Snowden and Rand Paul, who wrongly suggested that this allowed Big Brother to snoop on our phone calls. There is no evidence that this power was ever abused. There were only 150 such searches last by the NSA, and all of them were related to real national security concerns.

In fact, the NSA has been more responsible and restrained in its use of this technology than all of the big companies — from United Airlines, to Apple computers, to Hilton hotels, to Amazon—which routinely utilize far more intrusive programs to track the shopping preferences of their actual and potential customers. But apparently, for some reason, the Washington Randstanders are ok with commercial firms snooping on us to sell us stuff we don’t really need, but they’re not ok with the NSA snooping on us to protect us from terrorists.

So now we will have a drastic change in the program that may or may not impair its effectiveness. We don’t know yet what the impact of these changes will be, which is all the more reason we shouldn’t be making them when the threat from terrorism is as great as it is today. Ironically, on the very day when the Senate was passing a watered-down version of the PATRIOT Act, a terrorist suspect was fatally shot by police officers in Boston after resisting arrest.

But it was probably inevitable that some such change would be made by Congress after the Snowden revelations, and it’s just as well that the curtailment of the NSA was not more severe. The only way this could have been avoided altogether is if President Obama had made a full-throated defense of the NSA and laid it on the line for lawmakers, telling them that if they voted to rescind existing authorities they would be making it easier for terrorists to attack us. He didn’t do that.

As Senator John McCain noted, on this, as on most other national security issues, Obama has been largely AWOL. He clearly does not see himself in the role of a wartime commander-in-chief whose job is to rally the public to support our war efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and at home. Rather, he clearly sees these threats as a distraction from “nation building at  home,” which is what he is really interested in. And he sees his role as being a sagacious professor helping his “students” — that would be us — to reason toward an acceptable compromise. That’s a long way from the kind of steely leadership displayed by the likes of Lincoln, FDR, and Truman. Given that reality, this watered-down version of the PATRIOT Act is about the best we could hope for until we get a president who more fully embraces his (or her) commander-in-chief responsibilities.

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Rand Paul Drops the Pretense

It is highly likely that as a result of Senator Rand Paul’s maneuvers, barring a last minute reversal, the Patriot Act will expire Sunday night. This is something of a triumph for the Kentucky senator even if it is likely to be a short-lived one. Even under the rules of the Senate which allow individual senators vast leeway to gum up the works if they so choose, it’s likely that a frustrated Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be able to force an end to this exhibition by Wednesday and that the House version of a renewal called the USA Freedom Act, will eventually be adopted by the Senate. It is to be hoped that the 72-hour interval won’t harm national security. But the main political conclusion to be drawn from this affair is that Paul’s long and arduous effort to attain the status of a mainstream Republican leader and presidential contender is now officially over.

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It is highly likely that as a result of Senator Rand Paul’s maneuvers, barring a last minute reversal, the Patriot Act will expire Sunday night. This is something of a triumph for the Kentucky senator even if it is likely to be a short-lived one. Even under the rules of the Senate which allow individual senators vast leeway to gum up the works if they so choose, it’s likely that a frustrated Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be able to force an end to this exhibition by Wednesday and that the House version of a renewal called the USA Freedom Act, will eventually be adopted by the Senate. It is to be hoped that the 72-hour interval won’t harm national security. But the main political conclusion to be drawn from this affair is that Paul’s long and arduous effort to attain the status of a mainstream Republican leader and presidential contender is now officially over.

As I noted last week, Paul’s recent filibuster of the Patriot Act renewal didn’t have the same impact of the same stunt when he executed it in early 2013. That filibuster captured the imagination of the country not just because it was well done. It worked because his concerns about the Obama administration’s use of drone attacks seemed to capture both the cynicism that many Americans felt about the government but also because it came at a time when the threat from Islamist terrorism seemed to have receded. But in the wake of the rise of ISIS as a result of President Obama’s negligence and shortsighted Middle East policies, that stance no longer resonates with as many people, especially Republican primary voters.

But rather than let a bipartisan majority of Congress work their will and allow U.S. intelligence to continue their necessary work of monitoring possible terrorist threats, Paul has doubled down on his obstructionism. The result is that, at least for a few days, he will have won and stripped the government of its ability to conduct bulk data collection. Paul and his fellow libertarian cynics about efforts to combat terrorism will assert that no harm will be done to the country, a proposition that cannot be proved or disproved without access to the sort of intelligence that is unlikely to be in the public domain or even possessed by members of the Senate. Yet, even if the country is so fortunate that nothing important will slip by its spooks during a possible 72 hour blackout, the point here is that Paul’s crusade has finally exploded the notion that he is a mere foreign policy “realist” rather than a housebroken version of his father’s old extremist libertarian faction.

McConnell was resisting the House version until this week because he rightly considered its attempt to limit the government’s ability to monitor terrorist contacts to be both unnecessary and potentially dangerous. But since neither Paul nor some left-wing Democrats who share his views would play ball, the Majority Leader was forced to embrace the House bill as the only way to effectively renew the Patriot Act before it expired. This retreat availed him little since Paul was not satisfied with having his say and getting a vote, but actually chose to let the law expire, albeit for only a few days.

Suffice it to say that if Senator Paul were the mainstream Republican, he has been trying to pose as for the last two years as he prepared his presidential run, he wouldn’t have done this. It is one thing to grandstand about these issues, even on the ludicrous premise that the government was thinking about sending drones to kill American citizens peacefully sipping coffee in Starbucks, as he did in his 2013 filibuster. It is quite another to use your power as a senator to actually halt U.S. intelligence efforts merely in order to feed the paranoia of a segment of the public.

It bears repeating that the metadata collection that he is so riled up about was both constitutional and a necessary tool for American intelligence forces as they work to continue to try and forestall attacks on the homeland as well as terrorism abroad. The National Security Agency isn’t reading your emails or listening to your phone conversations. But it will seek to do so if you are in contact with a known terrorist. The House version of the bill forces the government to go to a court before it can use any of the data it seeks. That’s an extra precaution that ought to satisfy the Patriot Act’s critics, who nevertheless cannot point to a single instance in which the government has misused the information it gleans from the procedure.

Paul’s stance puts him to the left of President Obama on this issue. That’s nothing new since his foreign policy views are, as a general rule of thumb, far closer to that of the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party than those of most of his fellow Republicans. But while his calls for a weaker defense and a retreat from a position of strength abroad can sometimes be couched in terms that allow him to pose as a follower of the first President Bush, his recent antics give the lie to this effort.

Paul will likely continue to be a disruptive force in both his party and the presidential contest, especially in a field as big as the one Republicans will have in 2016. But by claiming, as our Noah Rothman noted this past week, that it was his fellow Republicans, rather than President Obama, who should be held responsible for the rise of ISIS and then his effort to torpedo intelligence collection Paul has finally dropped any pretense that he is attempt to gain the votes of mainstream conservatives.

He has, instead, reverted to being merely a slicker and more ambitious versions of his cranky extremist father. Unlike Rep. Ron Paul, Rand seemed to harbor genuine hopes of expanding beyond his small yet vocal band of libertarian backers. It was fun while it lasted, but that is over. So should be any notion that he is anything more than a factional leader who has no chance of being nominated, let alone elected president.

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Are Rick Santorum’s Liberal Economic Preferences Really Smart Politics?

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul earned quite a bit of well-deserved grief when he bizarrely and baselessly accused his fellow Republicans of giving life to the ISIS threat. He does, however, deserve quite a bit of credit for advancing the Republican Party’s agenda both culturally and politically in a way that other Republicans do not. Read More

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul earned quite a bit of well-deserved grief when he bizarrely and baselessly accused his fellow Republicans of giving life to the ISIS threat. He does, however, deserve quite a bit of credit for advancing the Republican Party’s agenda both culturally and politically in a way that other Republicans do not.

Paul’s deft defense of his principled pro-life stance compelled the political press to turn the tables on Democratic figures like Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who traditionally demagogues the issue of abortion rights unchecked by a critical media. What’s more, the junior Kentucky senator’s devotion to the cause of minority outreach is exemplary. Both Paul’s mission and his style of execution are worthy of emulation, and the entire 2016 Republican field would do well to consider following his lead.

It is, however, objectively true that Paul’s foreign policy prescriptions do not reflect consensus opinion among his party’s voters. If Rand Paul regards the 2003 Iraq War and the ensuing aftermath as a mistake, he shares that opinion with only 28 percent of his fellow Republicans, according to a Quinnipiac University survey released on Thursday. By contrast, 78 percent of self-identified Democrats share the view that the Iraq War was a mistake. The senator’s views on the war and its still reverberating impacts are more closely aligned with the opposition than the members of his own party.

Similarly, another Republican presidential aspirant has determined to tether his political fortunes to a set of policy positions that could be, or at least should be, out of step with the rest of his party.

Sen. Rick Santorum is generally known for his socially conservative views on a variety of divisive subjects like abortion and same-sex marriage, but it is his economic vision that most defines him as a Republican presidential candidate.

“Regardless of what people think about Rick, and I know a lot of people in Manhattan may not like him, he’s got the best message — the best economic message — for Republicans,” MSNBC host Joe Scarborough insisted on Friday. Santorum had just joined the MSNBC panel where discussed his economic platform, much of which he espoused in 2012. Some of Santorum’s policy preferences include providing tax incentives to manufacturers, eliminating tax breaks for firms that contract out or ship manufacturing work abroad, casting a skeptical eye toward free trade, and hiking the federal minimum wage.

On the most divisive free trade agreements, it would be difficult to identify where Santorum’s policy preferences diverge from those of Vermont’s self-described socialist Senator Bernie Sanders. In the U.S. Senate, Santorum voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement. Apparently, his views on free trade have not changed in the last 22 years. Though he told Breitbart reporter Matthew Boyle that he generally favors trade, Santorum remains opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement because the president who would be negotiating the deal “has not proven to be reliable or trustworthy.” But the former senator objected to NAFTA not because Bill Clinton would sign it (many of the terms were negotiated during George H. W. Bush’s administration), but because it would “produce pockets of winners and losers across the country” and his state would be in the latter group.

In 2014, Santorum told MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that his party’s opposition to hiking the minimum wage “makes no sense,” and added that he believes at least 7 and preferably 9 percent of the nation should be covered by the minimum wage. “Let’s not make this argument that we’re for the blue collar guy but we’re against any minimum wage hike ever,” Santorum said. The presumption that a minimum wage hike helps workers rather than creates incentives for their employers to automate and thus eliminate their positions is fallacious.

Santorum’s policy preferences are based not in sound market economics, but in a gauzy and romantic reflection on an idealized American past epitomized by a manufacturing-based economy that no longer exists. To sustain that fantasy, Santorum would use tax breaks, trade impediments, and market-distorting incentives to retain the low-skill employment opportunities that have already largely gone overseas. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Scarborough embraced the GOP candidate with the most programmatically liberal economic positions in the race.

There are some who contend that Santorum’s policy preferences might not be economically conservative, but they at least smart politics. Republicans suffer from the dubious but prolific perception that theirs is the party of the rich, and Santorum is focused squarely on attracting middle and even low-income voters. There’s just one problem with this theory: The voters Santorum are trying to attract are already in the GOP’s corner.

As National Journal’s Ron Brownstein observed, the majority of the Republican Party’s gains since 2010 have come from predominantly blue-collar areas of the country with a majority white or aging population. “These voters, and particularly those well above the poverty line, began to shift toward the GOP decades ago, but in recent years that shift has become progressively more pronounced,” Emerging Democratic Majority co-author John Judis wrote of the working-class white voters who primarily occupy “blue-collar and lower-income service jobs.” Indeed, one of the most staggering developments of the Obama era is that states like Wisconsin and Michigan, places where the labor movement in America was born, are now Right to Work states. As the labor union movement has dissolved, so has the Republican Party’s appeal to traditionally pro-labor constituencies.

If one were comparing outreach strategies, it’s hard not to conclude that Rand Paul’s is infinitely more valuable to the GOP than is Santorum’s. The former Pennsylvania senator is reaching out to voters who are already receptive to the Republican message.

If Santorum did not hold traditionally conservative views on value issues as well as on foreign policy, it would not be unfair to question whether his policy preferences are a good fit for his party. His economic philosophy is not all that dramatically divergent from the left. Perhaps this is why, now that he is contending with stiff competition for the values vote from candidates like Mike Huckabee, Santorum struggles to even register in the polls of Republican primary voters despite the fact that he won 11 states and nearly 20 percent of their vote just three and a half years ago.

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Rand Paul is Running for the Wrong Party’s Nomination

After reflecting on Sen. Rand Paul’s reprise of his marathon 2013 Senate speech in opposition to the National Security Agency’s information collection and retention programs last week, Jonathan Tobin observed that the Kentucky senator now appears to be a largely spent force. Paul retains the unfailing support of his cadre of libertarian acolytes, of course, and his foreign and domestic policy prescriptions retain their appeal among a set of soft Republicans. But the Paul who spoke for 11 hours last week in opposition to the NSA’s programs looked less like a figure that could unite a major American political party and more like someone desperately trying to retain the support of those libertarians disappointed in him for deviating from the dogma to which his father adhered.

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After reflecting on Sen. Rand Paul’s reprise of his marathon 2013 Senate speech in opposition to the National Security Agency’s information collection and retention programs last week, Jonathan Tobin observed that the Kentucky senator now appears to be a largely spent force. Paul retains the unfailing support of his cadre of libertarian acolytes, of course, and his foreign and domestic policy prescriptions retain their appeal among a set of soft Republicans. But the Paul who spoke for 11 hours last week in opposition to the NSA’s programs looked less like a figure that could unite a major American political party and more like someone desperately trying to retain the support of those libertarians disappointed in him for deviating from the dogma to which his father adhered.

The most stalwart libertarian supporters of the Paul clan grew disenchanted with the prodigal son when it became apparent that he was vying to actually win his party’s presidential nomination, and was thus compelled to appeal to the broadest base of Republicans possible by adopting more moderate stances on matters relating to foreign affairs.  For a moment, it appeared as though Paul might prove an attractive candidate for a majority of war-weary conservatives leery of the intrusive security state. But the wave of anti-government sentiment among conservatives that crested in 2013 was dashed against the rocks of renewed fears about Islamist terrorism, the rise of ISIS, and revanchism evidenced by state actors like Russia, China, and Iran. Today, rather than broadening his base, Paul clings as desperately as he can to that meager coalition that inspired nearly 11 percent of GOP primary voters to cast their ballots for former Rep. Ron Paul in 2012.

In an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Wednesday, Paul channeled his father when he was asked whether the present incarnation of ISIS, the successor organization to the defanged and exiled al-Qaeda in Iraq, would have arisen had the United States aggressively contained the Syrian Civil War in Syria in 2012-2013. “[Sen. Lindsey] Graham would say ISIS exists because of people like Rand Paul who said, ‘Let’s not go into Syria,’” Scarborough noted. “What do you say to Lindsey?”

“I would say it’s exactly the opposite,” Paul replied. “ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately, and most of those arms were snatched up by ISIS.”

“These hawks also wanted to bomb Assad, which would have made ISIS’s job even easier,” he added. “They created these people.”

This is a rather juvenile and unconvincing effort to square a predetermined conclusion with contradictory evidence. The responsibility the West shirked in Syria was the maintenance of the prohibition on the battlefield use of chemical weapons, not in combating terrorism. President Barack Obama declined to mete out the consequences he promised Bashar al-Assad should the Syrian dictator continue to use chemical weapons, and instead relied on Russia to broker an arrangement that preserved their client in Damascus and helped Obama to save face. Nearly two years later, chemical weapons are regularly deployed in Syria, and the world is a more dangerous place as global actors test the parameters of America’s commitment to its word. Apparently, Rand Paul thinks that this is sound form of statecraft.

Paul’s instinctual aversion to interventionism may be principled if not wrongheaded, but it is a losing approach to the Republican presidential primaries.

“Nearly three-quarter of Republicans now favor sending ground troops into combat against the Islamic State, according to a CBS News poll last week,” a February report in the New York Times read. “And in Iowa and South Carolina, two early nominating states, Republicans said military action against the group was, alongside economic matters, the most important issue in the 2016 election, according to an NBC survey released last week.”

“When Pew asked respondents to choose between ‘using overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism around the world’ and ‘relying too much on military force to defeat terrorism creates hatred that leads to more terrorism,’ last October 57 percent of Republicans chose the overwhelming military force option; that number is now 74 percent,” the Washington Post’s Paul Waldman noted in that same month.

Regardless of what you think of Paul’s approach to governance, his is not a strategy aimed at winning the support of even a plurality of Republican primary voters. It is increasingly unclear, however, if Paul is even interested in securing the GOP nod. The junior Kentucky senator seems to find himself more at home in liberal enclaves than he does in the Republican Party’s geographic heartland. A recent Times dispatch noted that Paul recently found himself warmly received in a manner not often reserved for Republicans in the liberal bastion of Manhattan. “Paul played to the crowd,” the report read, noting that his speech “had echoes of the messages of his father.” The Bluegrass State senator is equally eager to reach out to atypical Republican voters in places like the Bay Area. Paul’s decision to open an office near San Francisco in order to appeal to libertarians in the Silicon Valley last year was framed as an outreach effort when, in reality, it’s more likely constituency maintenance.

Rand Paul is no longer waging a broad-based campaign to win the Republican nomination. His candidacy looks more and more like a factional effort to compel the Republican Party to embrace the libertarian foreign policy prescriptions of retrenchment and disengagement; policies already espoused by the present occupant of the Oval Office and which must be defended by his party’s chosen successor, Hillary Clinton.

The promise of Rand Paul’s campaign was that it would build his father’s political base into a mainstream force that would shift the GOP in a libertarian direction. While Paul’s adherence to his principles, as dangerous as they are, is laudable, they render him as niche a candidate as his father ever was.

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Rand’s Sad Tale of Two Filibusters

It’s hard to recapture the magic the second time around. As Senator Rand Paul is realizing this week, that’s cliché applies as much to politics as it does for romance. As James Kirchick explains in a major piece for the magazine called “The Dangerous Unseriousness of Rand Paul,” a 2013 filibuster about drone policy transformed the Kentucky libertarian from cranky extremist Ron Paul’s son to a serious contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. But with his candidacy failing to get much of a boost from his formal announcement and finding himself stuck in the middle of the pack in the large GOP field, Paul tried the filibuster trick again. It was, just like the first one, an impressive performance. But it’s unlikely to have the same effect. In 2013, even Republicans like Marco Rubio who basically disagreed with him on the policy question felt compelled to offer him some support. This time his biggest cheerleader was the editorial page of the New York Times. That not only demonstrated Paul’s basic affinity with the left on foreign policy but also showed that his moment had passed. Where his first filibuster showed he had transcended his father’s base, this one illustrated the fact that he has been forced to fall back on it in order to revive his flagging candidacy.

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It’s hard to recapture the magic the second time around. As Senator Rand Paul is realizing this week, that’s cliché applies as much to politics as it does for romance. As James Kirchick explains in a major piece for the magazine called “The Dangerous Unseriousness of Rand Paul,” a 2013 filibuster about drone policy transformed the Kentucky libertarian from cranky extremist Ron Paul’s son to a serious contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. But with his candidacy failing to get much of a boost from his formal announcement and finding himself stuck in the middle of the pack in the large GOP field, Paul tried the filibuster trick again. It was, just like the first one, an impressive performance. But it’s unlikely to have the same effect. In 2013, even Republicans like Marco Rubio who basically disagreed with him on the policy question felt compelled to offer him some support. This time his biggest cheerleader was the editorial page of the New York Times. That not only demonstrated Paul’s basic affinity with the left on foreign policy but also showed that his moment had passed. Where his first filibuster showed he had transcended his father’s base, this one illustrated the fact that he has been forced to fall back on it in order to revive his flagging candidacy.

Let’s give due credit to Paul for a bravura performance on the floor of the Senate as he sought to rally opposition to renewal of the Patriot Act. Just as he was in his first filibuster, he was articulate, passionate and principled. So why can’t it rally conservatives to his side the same way they did before?

The first and most obvious reason is that this is a different moment in time. In 2013, even many on the right though President Obama was right when he spoke of al-Qaeda and Islamist terror as having been licked. Today, Americans know that not only are the Islamists as dangerous as ever, but ISIS now controls much of Iraq and Syria and is expanding elsewhere. The idea that the terror threat is overstated or doesn’t require the country to empower its security apparatus some leeway for spying doesn’t have the same appeal today as it did two years ago.

It is true that many on the right are cynical about government, and it’s hard to disagree with Paul when he says that if you give it power, abuse is sure to follow. That’s an argument that is easy to make with a president who is prepared to act outside the law on so many issues as Barack Obama has done. But if you’re seeking the nomination of a party whose core foreign policy beliefs are rooted in intense Ronald Reagan-style patriotism and belief in a strong defense, ranting against the National Security Agency isn’t necessarily the formula for success. That is especially true at a time when the terrorists they are tasked with fighting are burning and beheading people and taking over countries.

This is not just because his attacks on the NSA and the Patriot Act are wrongheaded. The NSA has not acted improperly nor is the Act unconstitutional. But it goes deeper than that.

Rand’s problem is that the libertarian surge of 2013 has ebbed. That’s not because conservatives no longer care about personal liberty or think the government can always be trusted. But it hasn’t been lost on most Republicans that his stands on foreign policy are much closer to those of Bernie Sanders and the left wing of the Democratic Party than they are to those of the rest of his party. Like the left, his basic instincts are to suspect American power rather than to think of it as a force for good. Like the left, he believes the U.S. should shy away from confronting forces of evil rather than standing up to them.

Yet the most discouraging thing about the filibuster for Paul’s supporters is that it showed that he has failed to meet the basic assumption that most of us had about him two years ago. Back then, even those of us who were critical about him assumed that he was about to break through to mainstream support and expand beyond the libertarian base he inherited from his father. But as the polls show, it hasn’t happened. Indeed, given the stiff competition for Tea Party and even libertarian-oriented voters, he can’t even count on doing as well as Ron Paul did in 2012. Just as ominous for his chances is the fact that many of those Paulbots are unhappy with Rand’s attempt to shift to the center away from hardcore libertarian positions on foreign policy issues as he maneuvered for the presidential race. The filibuster was an attempt to rally that base.

That may well work, and if it does it might give him a fighting chance in a crowded field where none of the contenders can claim to have more than a fraction of the GOP electorate. But even if it does, it still leaves him far short of the support he needs to ultimately win the nomination. Rather than recapturing the magic, the filibuster confirmed it is gone. If he were really on track to be a potential nominee he would have transcended stunts like filibusters. All it proved was that Paul is still only a factional leader rather than someone with the potential to unite his party, let alone lead it to victory against the Democrats.

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Rand Paul’s Worst Case Against the PATRIOT Act: It’s Unpopular,So Gut It

On Wednesday, Sen. Rand Paul took the floor of the U.S. Senate to reprise his marathon speech in opposition to the metadata collection and warehousing programs that were exposed as part of the PATRIOT Act in 2013. Those programs were revealed in documents leaked by NSA defector and current beneficiary of Russian hospitality, Edward Snowden. While speaking in opposition to those programs, Paul made the claim that the American public is with him. But are they? The data suggests that it might not be true that the nation is standing with Rand as they were two years ago.

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On Wednesday, Sen. Rand Paul took the floor of the U.S. Senate to reprise his marathon speech in opposition to the metadata collection and warehousing programs that were exposed as part of the PATRIOT Act in 2013. Those programs were revealed in documents leaked by NSA defector and current beneficiary of Russian hospitality, Edward Snowden. While speaking in opposition to those programs, Paul made the claim that the American public is with him. But are they? The data suggests that it might not be true that the nation is standing with Rand as they were two years ago.

Paul’s arguments against these programs then, as they are now, are not entirely without merit, but a debate over on the virtue of the various information netting and retention programs contained within that post-9/11 counterterrorism bill is beyond the scope of this post. Certainly, Paul’s contention that these programs deserve public scrutiny is not unwarranted. They have been subject to precisely the scrutiny Paul recommends for nearly 24 months. Moreover, Paul would not have had the opportunity to mount a pseudo-filibuster in opposition to these programs today if a federal court had not determined that the PATRIOT Act’s information gathering programs must be approved individually and not, as Sen. Mitch McConnell had liked, as a blanket reauthorization of that sprawling counterterrorism law.

None of this is to say that Paul’s arguments against the National Security Agency’s sweeping data collection powers are baseless. He made a rather compelling argument, in fact, when he contended that the use of information obtained via NSA surveillance programs that was used during the prosecution of a criminal case (albeit against a terror suspect) exceeds the bounds of the powers granted to the government by the PATRIOT Act.

But for all of Paul’s compelling arguments, he also made more than a few unconvincing claims designed to poison the public against the NSA’s programs. Perhaps the most risible contention Paul made in opposition to the NSA’s information gathering programs is that they should be repealed because they are simply unpopular.

“I think if you look at this and you say, ‘Where are the American people on this?’” Paul asked. “Well over half the people, maybe even 60 percent of the people, think the government has gone too far.”

“But if you want an example of why the Senate or Congress doesn’t represent the people very well, or why we’re maybe a decade behind, I’ll bet you it’s 20 percent of the people here would vote to stop this. To truly just stop it,” the senator contended. “At the most.”

“Whereas it’s 60, 70 percent of the public would stop these things,” Paul continued, citing an ever-increasing majority of the public that is supposedly opposed to the NSA’s programs.

“You’re not well-represented,” he added. “I think the Congress is maybe a decade behind the people. I think it’s an argument for why we should limit terms. I think it’s an argument for why we should have more turnover in office, because we get up here and we stay too long and we get separated from the people.”

Yes, senator, lawmakers in Congress who are ostensibly privy to classified intelligence briefings are on average more protective of the NSA’s surveillance programs than the general public. That is not a mark against these programs, and certainly no argument in favor of term limits; it’s an argument in their favor.

As for Paul’s claim that somewhere between 50 and 70 percent of the public would do away with the NSA’s surveillance programs if they had the chance, it’s hard to find recent data that supports this assertion that does not result from surveys commissioned by the ACLU. A recent Pew Research Center poll paints a far more complex picture of how the public views the NSA’s programs in a world that is now characterized by a resurgent radical Islamist threat and is routinely imperiled by self-radicalized, ISIS-inspired lone wolves.

While 61 percent of those polled in a survey released in March say they are “less confident the surveillance efforts are serving the public interest,” it’s far from clear that this majority of respondents would do away with the NSA’s programs entirely. 82 percent of those polled are comfortable with the government monitoring the communications of suspected terrorists. Another 60 percent are unperturbed by the prospect of monitoring the communications of elected U.S. officials and foreign leaders. A narrow majority, 54 percent, say that they are not uncomfortable with federal officials monitoring the communications of non-U.S. citizens.

“Yet, 57% say it is unacceptable for the government to monitor the communications of U.S. citizens,” Pew’s release read. “At the same time, majorities support monitoring of those particular individuals who use words like ‘explosives’ and ‘automatic weapons’ in their search engine queries (65% say that) and those who visit anti-American websites (67% say that).”

The issue of NSA surveillance is nowhere near as black and white as it was when the Snowden leaks were initially revealed. There are some good arguments in support of Paul’s position on NSA surveillance. Those that the senator made at the open of his latest marathon floor speech on the matter are not among them.

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Who’s Winning the Foreign Policy Primary?

Nothing that happens this far in advance of the first primary and caucus state votes cast next year can be considered decisive but at least one element of the Republican presidential race was clarified this week if not settled. While the scrum of GOP candidates has yet to sort itself out into frontrunners and obvious also-rans, on the question of foreign policy we did get some answers about who was and was not ready for prime time. Jeb Bush’s perplexing series of stumbles in response to obvious foreign policy queries did nothing to advance his cause. At the same time, Senator Marco Rubio gave an outstanding speech at the Council of Foreign Relations that made it seem as if he was the experienced candidate ready to govern and his onetime mentor Bush was the novice. Meanwhile Senator Rand Paul also used Bush’s stumble to highlight his divergence from traditional Republican views about defense and foreign policy. At least for the moment, it seems as if the real foreign policy primary will be between the competing visions of Rubio and Paul while the rest of the field, doesn’t seem to be quite up to speed on the most important aspect of any president’s job.

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Nothing that happens this far in advance of the first primary and caucus state votes cast next year can be considered decisive but at least one element of the Republican presidential race was clarified this week if not settled. While the scrum of GOP candidates has yet to sort itself out into frontrunners and obvious also-rans, on the question of foreign policy we did get some answers about who was and was not ready for prime time. Jeb Bush’s perplexing series of stumbles in response to obvious foreign policy queries did nothing to advance his cause. At the same time, Senator Marco Rubio gave an outstanding speech at the Council of Foreign Relations that made it seem as if he was the experienced candidate ready to govern and his onetime mentor Bush was the novice. Meanwhile Senator Rand Paul also used Bush’s stumble to highlight his divergence from traditional Republican views about defense and foreign policy. At least for the moment, it seems as if the real foreign policy primary will be between the competing visions of Rubio and Paul while the rest of the field, doesn’t seem to be quite up to speed on the most important aspect of any president’s job.

As I wrote earlier this week, the grilling of Bush about Iraq and the legacy of his brother George W. wasn’t the discussion Republicans needed to have. But as Bush fumbled various responses, he seemed unprepared for questions to which he should have had a ready response. The point wasn’t that his various answers were wrong. Rather, it was the impression that didn’t seem to have command of foreign policy issues at his fingertips and his political skills had grown rusty in the 13 years since he last ran for office.

By contrast, Rubio’s foreign policy address was both eloquent and to the point as he gave voice to a coherent worldview about the need for American strength and vision. In a GOP field that is long on domestic issue strength but short on foreign policy expertise, Rubio’s command of the issue proved he was not merely competent but head and shoulders above the competition. That seemed especially true during a week when in addition to Bush’s troubles, one of their leading competitors, Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, was in Israel for his first trip to the country. He was, he said, there to listen, but his main goal seemed to be to avoid the press overhearing any gaffes like the ones he made during his trip to London earlier this year. Walker was shielded from press scrutiny and questions the entire time he was in Israel. Even the press-shy Hillary Clinton provided more transparency this week than Walker.

As for Rubio, he was both optimistic about the power of American exceptionalism and aware of the serious nature of the threats facing the country. Rubio provided an in-depth of the failures of the Obama administration on issues like Iran, Israel, Russia and China. But this was more than just the usual litany of complaints about the last six years. His three pillared approach to the challenges of the future — military strength, protecting the economy against nations like Russia and China that seek to threaten the free flow of international trade and standing up for the nation’s core values — illustrated his nuanced understanding of the challenges facing the nation. The Rubio doctrine was not just about flexing America’s muscles and stopping the apologies and appeasement that have characterized the Obama years but is based on a positive vision of why American strength is essential the preservation of peace and prosperity.

But it must be admitted that Rubio wasn’t the only Republican candidate scoring points on foreign policy this week. Senator Rand Paul has been on the defense on foreign affairs for much of the past year. With ISIS on the rise and the Islamist terror threat growing in danger Paul has been eager to shed his well-earned reputation as an isolationist. But Bush’s inability to escape the Iraq War trap gave Paul an easy target. The Kentucky senator hasn’t much to offer the country when it comes to an alternative to Obama’s policies in the Middle East since he is, if anything to the left of the president on these issues. But when the conversation turns to the unpopular Iraq War, Paul is in his comfort zone.

He even used that as an opening to attack Rubio for supporting foreign aid. Though depriving allies, such as Israel, of essential help, has long been a staple of Paul’s neo-isolationism that nowadays masquerades as “realism,” it’s the sort of point that remains a popular applause getter on the stump. But it took a lot of brass for Paul to tag Rubio as being on “the wrong side of history” because of his belief that a judicious distribution of aid to friends was an essential part of preserving American strength.

Though his position doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, Paul’s willingness to stand up against a forward American stance abroad and aid does at least provide a competing foreign policy vision for Republican voters. It’s doubtful they would prefer Paul’s channeling of his inner Bernie Sanders to Rubio’s more Reaganesque approach. But when compared to Bush’s agonized dance around his brother’s record or Walker’s blank slate (not to mention Ben Carson’s sheer ignorance of foreign policy), it does set up a serious competition between the two senators.

Bush may be raising the most money but in the foreign policy primary, he’s trailing Rubio badly. There’s plenty of time for him and the others to catch up. But right now on Rubio and Paul are the ones who are most engaged in a vital debate about the future of America and the soul of the Republican Party.

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Don’t Call It a Comeback (Because It Isn’t)

The most commonly recalled lesson of the 2008 presidential campaign is the danger in declaring a candidate “inevitable.” But that overshadows the other lesson from that same year, and it has to do not with Hillary Clinton but with John McCain: it can be just as risky to declare a candidacy all but dead in the water. So while Clinton is aiming to avoid a repeat of that year, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, mostly written off by political observers (including this one), might just be hoping history at least rhymes this time around on the Republican side.

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The most commonly recalled lesson of the 2008 presidential campaign is the danger in declaring a candidate “inevitable.” But that overshadows the other lesson from that same year, and it has to do not with Hillary Clinton but with John McCain: it can be just as risky to declare a candidacy all but dead in the water. So while Clinton is aiming to avoid a repeat of that year, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, mostly written off by political observers (including this one), might just be hoping history at least rhymes this time around on the Republican side.

Hillary was not inevitable, as it turned out, which is why she’s back running again this year. But she seems inevitable again, and this time more so. Are pundits who may be repeating their mistake with Hillary repeating the same mistake by dismissing Chris Christie’s chances to win the GOP nomination?

In a word, no.

The New Jersey governor has launched what is being termed a “comeback” tour, and the plan appears to have both a geographic center and a policy one. As the Washington Post reports:

Chris Christie kicked off a two day swing to New Hampshire with a sober prescription for tackling escalating entitlement spending.

The New Jersey governor and potential Republican presidential candidate proposed raising the retirement age for Social security to 69, means testing for Social Security, and gradually raising the eligibility age for Medicare.

Christie outlined his proposals on entitlement reform at a speech Tuesday morning at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College.

“In the short term, it is growing the deficit and slowly but surely taking over all of government. In the long term, it will steal our children’s future and bankrupt our nation. Meanwhile, our leaders in Washington are not telling people the truth. Washington is still not dealing with the problem,” Christie said.

“Washington is afraid to have an honest conversation about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid with the people of our country. I am not,” the governor added.

As Hail Marys go, there is logic to this plan. Geographically, it makes sense. The crowded field of social conservatives and candidates with Midwest ties/appeal makes Iowa a stretch for Christie. New Hampshire, on the other hand, is much closer to home for a northeastern Republican, and ideologically probably a better fit than Iowa for someone like Christie.

Additionally, the idea that candidates might waste resources trying to win Iowa at the expense of New Hampshire isn’t crazy at all. In fact, since 1980, for every presidential-election year in which there was no Republican presidential incumbent, Iowa and New Hampshire chose different winners. This streak almost ended in 2012 when it appeared Mitt Romney won Iowa and then went on to win New Hampshire, but once all the votes were counted it turned out Rick Santorum had actually won Iowa. The smart money, then, in New Hampshire is never on the winner of the Iowa caucuses (at least not when it’s an open seat). Christie probably knows this.

However, with such a crowded field, even assuming the Iowa winner doesn’t also win New Hampshire (and he will still likely compete there for votes anyway) Christie will have a steep hill to climb. Jeb Bush is his most significant rival for establishment votes, and Bush will have lots of money to blanket the northeast in ads while Christie’s campaign is just getting out of the gate. Rand Paul will likely be competitive in New Hampshire, with its libertarian streak (his father did reasonably well in New Hampshire). And then there will still be Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, and others.

On the policy side, I don’t think I even need to point out the risk involved in making entitlement reform the centerpiece of your agenda. It is bold, and Christie does need to stand out from the pack. He needs conservative votes, not just establishment support, and conservatives might be more amenable to such cuts (in theory at least, and it’ll vary depending on which piece of the safety net we’re talking about).

Christie is very good in person, so the town hall format should help him. He’s also got the “straight-talker” bona fides to at least portray himself as the guy who’s telling you what you need to hear, not necessarily what you want to hear. But that can go south in a hurry, considering Christie’s temper.

And further, as Harry Enten points out today, “The Politics Of Christie’s ‘Bold’ Social Security Plan Are Atrocious.” Enten writes:

According to a January 2013 Reason-Rupe survey, Republicans are more likely than Democrats, independents and the general public to say that income should not be a determining factor in receiving Social Security benefits. Only 26 percent of Republicans believe that Social Security should go to only those below a certain income level. Seventy percent of Republicans are opposed to such a proposal. …

In a September 2013 Associated Press-National Opinion Research Center poll, 58 percent of Republicans over the age of 50 were opposed to raising the age of eligibility on Social Security. Just 33 percent of Republicans over the age of 50 support such a proposal. According to an April 2013 Fox News survey, Republicans overall are more split. Still, does Christie really want to try to push the idea of raising the retirement age in New Hampshire, where 56 percent of primary voters are over the age of 50? For a moderate Republican like Christie, New Hampshire is a crucial state. His plan doesn’t seem like smart politics.

No, it doesn’t. But Christie can’t really afford to play it safe. Or can he? Is he learning the wrong lesson himself from 2008? McCain’s comeback was not due to bold conservative reform plans. If anything, he was the “safe” candidate in the field: the war hero with clean hands and decades of service. As other, more hyped candidates flamed out early, McCain simply remained standing.

He also benefited from the electoral math, specifically in having others in the race like Mike Huckabee who could siphon votes from Romney without posing a serious threat to McCain.

Then again, considering the strength of the field this year, Christie can’t plausibly expect every other serious candidate to implode. So he’s going for broke. It’s an interesting idea that may be making headlines today but will ultimately be a footnote in the story of 2016.

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Rubio, Immigration, and the Long Road to the Nomination

Yesterday, on the day of the announcement of his presidential candidacy, Marco Rubio had two very good reasons to talk about immigration. And that’s the problem. Rubio took a risk in trying to reform the federal immigration system. It was, in many ways, an admirable risk, since the system really does need an overhaul, and Rubio seems to have learned an important lesson about prioritizing border security and preventing another border surge over increasing low-skilled immigration. But it was an expensive lesson.

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Yesterday, on the day of the announcement of his presidential candidacy, Marco Rubio had two very good reasons to talk about immigration. And that’s the problem. Rubio took a risk in trying to reform the federal immigration system. It was, in many ways, an admirable risk, since the system really does need an overhaul, and Rubio seems to have learned an important lesson about prioritizing border security and preventing another border surge over increasing low-skilled immigration. But it was an expensive lesson.

The first reason Rubio had to talk about immigration was that he was asked. He gave an interview to NPR’s Steve Inskeep, and at one point in the wide-ranging discussion the subject turned to immigration. Rubio mentioned that he understands now that immigration reform can’t be “comprehensive,” as he had hoped, especially because distrust of massive government legislation is so high. He also talked about how difficult it would be to get such legislation passed during Obama’s presidency. (Obama has famously torpedoed immigration reform time and time again.)

And then Inskeep asked about the presidential election and the Hispanic vote, and the two had this exchange:

How do you keep from getting hammered on that in a general election where the Hispanic vote may be very important?

Well, I don’t know about the others, but I’ve done more immigration than Hillary Clinton ever did. I mean, I helped pass an immigration bill in a Senate dominated by Democrats. And that’s more than she’s ever done. She’s given speeches on it, but she’s never done anything on it. So I have a record of trying to do something on it. It didn’t work because at the end of the day, we did not sufficiently address the issue of, of illegal immigration and I warned about that throughout that process, as well, that I didn’t think we were doing enough to give that bill a chance of moving forward in the House.

It’s understandable that Rubio chose this answer. The phrasing of the question hemmed him in a bit, tying immigration reform to the Hispanic vote. But the truth is, supporting immigration reform will not do much for Republicans’ attempts to win over Hispanic voters, and “taking the issue off the table” by actually successfully passing and instituting reform won’t do much more.

As far as attempting to pass reform, this is because Hispanic voters have much more in common with Democrats than Republicans on policy than simply immigration. And Republicans knew this even before the 2012 election. On the day of that election, for example, I pointed out a poll showing President Obama getting 73 percent of the Hispanic vote and Hispanic voters trusting Obama and the Democrats on the economy over Mitt Romney and the Republicans by a 73-18 percent margin.

Other polls have shown similar results with even more specifics, but the numbers in that poll were so clear as to be a neon sign: Hispanic voters were, like their fellow voters, concerned about the economy. That poll also indicated that promising to address immigration reform wasn’t very valuable to Hispanic voters, because they didn’t believe congressional cooperation would have improved much no matter who won.

And “taking it off the table” doesn’t get you very far either, because it won’t be done by 2016 anyway (in part because Democrats don’t want to take this issue off the table). It might help somewhat, but it’s not the main issue and treating it as if it were can be a distraction. This is also why mainstream reporters will always want to tie immigration reform to the Hispanic vote: the odds are against it, and therefore they can keep badgering Republicans on it.

The other good reason Rubio had for talking about immigration is that Republican candidates are already pivoting to the general election by contrasting themselves with Hillary Clinton. Jeb Bush does this because he wants to prove himself to the establishment and look like a frontrunner. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Rubio will do this because they are young enough to pitch the election as “yesterday” vs. “tomorrow.” (Rubio did this explicitly, and brilliantly, in his announcement speech.) Age is no advantage against each other, though, for the latter three.

Rubio also had perfect timing to turn his criticism to Hillary, since she announced her campaign the day before he did. It’s possible she thought she was upstaging him, but he turned it to his advantage flawlessly. Going forward, the GOP candidates will surely criticize each other, but Rubio was right to turn toward the general this week, and doing so opens the door to talk about immigration.

But Rubio doesn’t have to run from this issue to avoid antagonizing the base. He just has to understand that pivoting to the general election before the actual general election is different than after winning the nomination, because he’s making his pitch to Republican primary voters.

The “I can beat Hillary” rationale does not have a great track record, if 2007-08 is any guide. But whatever credit Rubio will get for attempting immigration reform, he’s already received. For now he needs to remember who his audience is, because if he’s lucky they’ll be his primary audience for the next year.

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Can Rand Paul Change the Way National Politicians Talk About Abortion?

Yesterday Rand Paul earned plaudits from conservatives for turning a question on abortion back on Democrats and putting them on the defensive. It’s long been the case that Democratic Party leaders hold fringe opinions on abortion, yet are rarely if ever asked about it by a compliant media. Not only did Paul not slip up on the question (the way candidates have in the past). He even forced an admission by DNC chief Debbie Wasserman Schultz that leading Democrats believe there should be no limits on abortion. But even more important are two other, significant ways Paul’s accomplishment could change the 2016 race.

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Yesterday Rand Paul earned plaudits from conservatives for turning a question on abortion back on Democrats and putting them on the defensive. It’s long been the case that Democratic Party leaders hold fringe opinions on abortion, yet are rarely if ever asked about it by a compliant media. Not only did Paul not slip up on the question (the way candidates have in the past). He even forced an admission by DNC chief Debbie Wasserman Schultz that leading Democrats believe there should be no limits on abortion. But even more important are two other, significant ways Paul’s accomplishment could change the 2016 race.

To recap, here’s the exchange yesterday, from Bloomberg’s Dave Weigel:

“Should there be any exemptions or not?” asked NH1 reporter Paul Steinhauser, citing the DNC attack.

“What’s the DNC say?” asked Paul. That landed like a joke—the room holding the press conference also contained some Paul supporters waiting for photos—but he was serious.

“Here’s the deal—we always seen to have the debate waaaaay over here on what are the exact details of exemptions, or when it starts,” said Paul, waving his hands to the left. “Why don’t we ask the DNC: Is it okay to kill a seven-pound baby in the uterus? You go back and you ask Debbie Wasserman Schultz if she’s OK with killing a seven-pound baby that is not born yet. Ask her when life begins, and you ask Debbie when it’s okay to protect life. When you get an answer from Debbie, get back to me.”

“Here’s an answer,” said Schultz. “I support letting women and their doctors make this decision without government getting involved. Period. End of story. Now your turn, Senator Paul. We know you want to allow government officials like yourself to make this decision for women — but do you stand by your opposition to any exceptions, even when it comes to rape, incest, or life of the mother? Or do we just have different definitions of ‘personal liberty’? And I’d appreciate it if you could respond without ’shushing’ me.”

Schultz’s response highlights the two key aspects of this as it relates to the presidential election.

The first is that Paul put Schultz on the defensive because Republicans with national aspirations on the campaign trail almost never talk about abortion like this. The honesty was bracing, but Schultz was also unprepared for it. Yet this isn’t, first and foremost, an issue for the Democrats, because we’re so far from the general election. Instead, it’s a challenge to Paul’s fellow Republicans.

The Todd Akin affair has spooked Republicans even more than they’d normally be about defending the right to life. But if Paul is going to talk like this–as well he should–and get conservative applause for it–again, as well he should–then it’s going to put pressure on his fellow candidates too. Paul does not want to avoid the debate over abortion. On the contrary, he wants to have a full and honest debate about it. Over the long term, that’s won’t be good for Democrats like Schultz, whose position on abortion is horrifying–unless, of course, the Republicans trip over their words and faceplant on the question at some point, the way Akin and others have.

But for the near future, other Republican candidates are not going to be able to ignore the question either, not from Paul and not from the media who know they can get the candidates talking about it now. It will come up in debates, and it will come up on the campaign trail. And Paul has raised the stakes by offering an honest and full-throated defense of the unborn. Will others follow suit? How will Ted Cruz, who is openly aiming for the evangelical vote, handle the question?

The other reason it has implications for the race is that this is part and parcel of Paul’s response to the “war on women” lie. Remember, Paul last caused a stir on this when he expressed his confusion at being accused of waging a war on women by the same people who still want the Clintons to lead their party. He even called Bill Clinton–accurately–a sexual predator.

The abortion debate is central to the Democrats’ war on women narrative. And they’re already trying to paint Paul as hostile to women. As the Blaze points out:

Democrats on Wednesday indicated that their emerging strategy for fighting Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) as he seeks the GOP presidential nomination is to say he has a problem with women.

Paul on Wednesday got into a tense back and forth with a female anchor from NBC in which he accused her of editorializing about his views instead of simply asking about his views. “Why don’t we let me explain instead of you talking over me, okay?” he said.

Paul’s habit of getting defensive in interviews may hurt him on the campaign trail, since he’s going up against happy warriors like Scott Walker and the seemingly unflappable Ted Cruz. It’s a long campaign, and Paul’s going to have to have the patience for it.

But he’s not anti-woman. And in fact, it’s a bit condescending of Democrats toward women to treat them as too fragile for the heat of the political debate. But that won’t stop Democrats from trying.

Paul’s answer on abortion is of a piece with his strategy to combat the war on women nonsense. He pushes back every time, and has become adept at turning the accusations back on Democrats. Considering how important the war on women lie is to Democrats’ campaign strategy, it will be interesting to see how Paul’s approach will play on a national level over time, and whether it will encourage other Republicans to turn the questions back on Democrats as well.

The best-case scenario for how this turns out for Paul is that he finally ends the bogus war on women while forcing voters to contemplate the appalling implications of Democrats’ extreme stance on abortion. The worst-case scenario is that his quick temper gets him into trouble and he burns out. A middle ground is that he backs off his current strategy in order to prevent the second scenario, but this would mean also retreating somewhat rhetorically.

The result may well determine how both parties talk about abortion going forward. Some will cheer Paul and some won’t, but all will likely be paying close attention.

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MSNBC’s Favorite Republican Can’t Win

Yesterday was Rand Paul’s big day as the Kentucky senator announcement his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. Like any baseball team on opening day, in theory his chances are as good as any other candidate, and given the expected crowded field competing for the nod, that’s still true. But though his Louisville announcement bash went smoothly, what followed hasn’t gone quite as well. Some of that is due to Paul’s personality turning media appearances sour. But just as important is the way the basic contradiction in his campaign strategy is undermining his chances almost from the start. Though Paul has money, an ardent cadre of supporters, and a rationale for his quest, it’s hard to imagine a path to victory for him. While his rival Ted Cruz’s launch seems to have validated the notion that he is being underestimated by pundits, Paul’s start may be proof that those who see him as a lock to be a first-tier primary candidate next winter and spring are the ones who are making a mistake.

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Yesterday was Rand Paul’s big day as the Kentucky senator announcement his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. Like any baseball team on opening day, in theory his chances are as good as any other candidate, and given the expected crowded field competing for the nod, that’s still true. But though his Louisville announcement bash went smoothly, what followed hasn’t gone quite as well. Some of that is due to Paul’s personality turning media appearances sour. But just as important is the way the basic contradiction in his campaign strategy is undermining his chances almost from the start. Though Paul has money, an ardent cadre of supporters, and a rationale for his quest, it’s hard to imagine a path to victory for him. While his rival Ted Cruz’s launch seems to have validated the notion that he is being underestimated by pundits, Paul’s start may be proof that those who see him as a lock to be a first-tier primary candidate next winter and spring are the ones who are making a mistake.

What’s fascinating about these two launches is the way both candidates have gone against the stereotype about their personalities and styles. Cruz is viewed as a bomb-throwing, extremist agitator, yet he came off in the usual round of interviews on the news and broadcast channels as being thoughtful and soft-spoken even as he remained unyielding about his conservative views. By contrast Paul, whose reputation is of being a low-key intellectual, showed a brittle nature as he responded to questions about flip-flopping with anger and condescension toward media figures. Granted, nobody on the right will blame Paul for tearing into Today’s Savannah Guthrie, but it struck a contrast to the supposedly off-balance Cruz’s patience when subjected to similar sorts of questions.

Though GOP voters tend to sympathize with their leaders when they are under attack from the media, voters tend not to like presidential candidates who can’t keep their cool. For Paul to unravel so quickly with the glow of his announcement still on him doesn’t bode well for how he will hold up in the long haul through primary season.

But the problem with the flip-flopping charge goes deeper than Paul’s thin skin.

The reason he’s upset about being questioned about the way he has gradually drifted a bit to the center on foreign policy and security issues is that he knows that his formerly rigid libertarian views are out of step with his party and the general public. Paul’s instinctive antagonism toward security measures and a robust U.S. defense seemed to reflect the post-Iraq/Afghanistan wars mood of the country in early 2013 when he gained attention with a well executed Senate filibuster about the use of drone attacks. But with ISIS on the march and the key issue of the day being President Obama’s appeasement of Iran, his attempt to square the circle on these points falls flat.

The contradictions were evident even in his announcement speech, as at one point he pledged to “do whatever it takes” to defeat terrorism but then returned to more familiar rhetoric a few moments later as he lambasted some of the security measures that give law enforcement the ability to stop the terrorists.

Just as important, the looming problem for Paul is that his basic foreign-policy approach still has its roots in the extremism of his father, former Rep. Ron Paul. It is true that, as the candidate says, he shouldn’t be held accountable for his father’s views (a good thing since it is hard to imagine the elder Paul staying silent during the campaign) and that he disagrees with him on some issues. But try as he might to demonstrate distance from the White House on all issues, it’s still obvious that he is running for a Republican nomination while espousing views that are actually largely to the left of those of President Obama on foreign policy.

That was always true of Ron Paul, but a vignette on MSNBC yesterday demonstrated just how comfortable the denizens of that left-wing cul de sac are with the Kentucky senator’s approach to foreign policy. Paul’s announcement and the attacks that are being launched against him by conservative opponents of his foreign-policy views prompted the channel’s Chris Matthews to launch into an impressive rant about how the candidate is more reflective of the views of most of the country than his GOP opponents. But instead of leaving it at that, Matthews insisted that the attempt by “neocons and piggish money” that want to fight more wars for Israel to oppose Paul speaks well for the candidate. Matthews stopped just short of overt anti-Semitism, though his line about “cloth coat Republicans” (a nod to Richard Nixon’s “checkers speech”?) that send their kids to war while the neocons don’t seemed an obvious and inaccurate shot at supporters of Israel.

Rand Paul isn’t responsible for what crackpots on the ultra-left MSNBC say about him, but what is significant is that a candidate that can draw sympathy from that sector is poorly placed to win mainstream support among Republicans. Considering that some of his father’s hard-core backers are becoming disillusioned with Rand’s apostasies about foreign aid and defense spending, there just aren’t enough libertarians to help Paul win. Tea Partiers have other choices with Cruz and Scott Walker. Nor is he well placed to compete for conservative Christian voters.

That adds up to a steep hill for him to climb. Though no one with this much name recognition and the ability to raise money can be written off on day one of his candidacy, the limitations to his appeal are actually greater than those of the supposedly more extreme Cruz. MSNBC’s favorite Republican may not be as much of a lock to be a first-tier primary candidate as some pundits think.

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Why Rand Paul Doesn’t Need to Tell Us Why He’s Running (But Hillary Does)

Contrary to what may seem like a mad dash for the Republican presidential nomination, the distribution of candidate announcements so far has actually been quite rational. Those who had the most to gain by jumping into the race early have done so. Tomorrow brings the beginning of the next phase: the entry into the race of the group of candidates known as “everyone else.”

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Contrary to what may seem like a mad dash for the Republican presidential nomination, the distribution of candidate announcements so far has actually been quite rational. Those who had the most to gain by jumping into the race early have done so. Tomorrow brings the beginning of the next phase: the entry into the race of the group of candidates known as “everyone else.”

Tomorrow Rand Paul is expected to officially launch his presidential campaign. A week later, Marco Rubio will likely do the same. And on the other side of the aisle, Hillary Clinton may formally announce her candidacy as early as the day after Rubio’s campaign launch. The campaign will be underway in earnest, though this will start a less interesting chapter in the 2016 story.

Although Jeb Bush has not officially launched his campaign, he was the first to make an announcement that made plain the fact that his campaign was functionally underway and also opened the gates to the 2016 primary race. This made a great deal of sense: it was unclear if Jeb really was going to run, and he wanted to assuage all doubt and signal to donors and staffers he was in.

Jeb is also vying for the affections of the party establishment, and he had a chance to deliver a knockout blow to his chief establishment rival, Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor is limited in what steps he can take toward a candidacy right now and is bound by his day job. Jeb isn’t, and so he knew if he could jump in and crowd out the donor/staffer field on the establishment side of the race, he could make it impossible for Christie to have a path to the nomination, and maybe even convince him not to run at all.

The next candidate to remove all doubt, and the first to officially announce his campaign, was Ted Cruz. The Texas senator seemed more likely than Jeb to run, but that perception might have had something to do with the fact that Cruz is currently in office and Jeb isn’t, and Cruz’s actions in the Senate always seemed to be aiming at something larger than the individual votes around which they were taken.

But Cruz is also a young, freshman senator in a (prospective) field with other young, freshman senators. It made sense that one of the freshmen toying with the idea of running for president would sit this one out and wait for a future election, especially if they felt generally confident in their reelection prospects. Cruz fit the bill of the member of the club who might have been most likely to wait. Jumping into the race officially, then, was the smart play: like Jeb, there was a genuine will-he-or-won’t-he aspect to his compelling freshman term, even if he did always seem to lean toward running.

Cruz also might have an in-state rival for conservative affection in Rick Perry. Cruz will benefit greatly from a head start on Perry, a three-term governor with national connections and some (rather bumpy) presidential campaign experience.

In other words, those who needed a head start entered the race early enough to get one. The natural reaction of the others, then, would be to enter the race as well and limit that head start. And so that’s what they’re doing.

Tomorrow Rand Paul is expected to announce his candidacy, and he’s released a campaign trailer to preview it. We’re told he’s a “new kind of Republican,” and the message on screen at the close of the video says: “On April 7 one leader will stand up to defeat the Washington machine and unleash the American dream.” It’s a message clearly directed at Cruz, Rubio, and any other members of Congress considering running (Lindsey Graham, Peter King). This, too, makes sense: Paul actually benefits from Jeb winning establishment backing and older candidates reinforce his past-vs.-future message. Cruz, however, is a real impediment to his chances of winning the nomination, though it’s unclear how he’ll present himself as more of an outsider than Cruz.

But the key is that he doesn’t have to–at least not yet. The announcement doesn’t have to break any new ground or present anything more than a general message. Politicians with relatively strong name identification build their own reputations over time. Paul doesn’t need to say anything more than “I’m running.”

And it puts into stark relief the difference between such politicians and those who actually need to say who they are and what they stand for on every re-introduction. Hillary Clinton’s nascent campaign is a perfect example. She has nothing interesting to say about anything. The news stories on her campaign take on a distinctly dopey quality because of this.

Commentators had some fun with an Associated Press dispatch on Clinton in late February. As the Free Beacon notes, the AP’s initial headline was “Clinton says she would push problem-solving if she runs.” It was later changed to “Clinton says she would push for inclusive problem-solving.”

Clinton is running for president because she believes it’s owed to her. Her new campaign focus is no better. Here’s the AP from this morning: “Clinton to start 2016 bid with focus on voter interaction.” Hillary Clinton is now willing to do anything to become president, even if it means talking to the unwashed masses.

This problem keeps cropping up because Clinton stands for nothing and believes nothing, and is at constant pains to justify her candidacy. Rand Paul doesn’t have to justify anything, which is why his announcement tomorrow won’t actually be very dramatic. And that’s a good thing.

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Rand Paul, Paleoneoconrealitarian Uniter

When speculation about the 2016 presidential election first began, the question about Rand Paul was whether his candidacy would closely mimic his father’s or whether he’d carve out his own independent identity. Now we know the answer: Neither. He’s running as Marco Rubio. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but it points to Paul’s recent moves that put him closer to the Republican mainstream and farther from his own distinctive base of support. And it’s beginning to look like if he had to choose between the two, Paul might choose not to dance with the one that brung ’im.

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When speculation about the 2016 presidential election first began, the question about Rand Paul was whether his candidacy would closely mimic his father’s or whether he’d carve out his own independent identity. Now we know the answer: Neither. He’s running as Marco Rubio. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but it points to Paul’s recent moves that put him closer to the Republican mainstream and farther from his own distinctive base of support. And it’s beginning to look like if he had to choose between the two, Paul might choose not to dance with the one that brung ’im.

To be sure, Paul is far from a carbon copy of defense hawks. But he’s spending considerable energy blurring those distinctions. And a turning point does seem to have been reached, ironically, thanks to the recent open letter to Iranian leaders signed by Republican senators who are opposed to a nuclear Iran and the president’s attempts to go around Congress. Paul, surprisingly, also signed the letter. And he’s continuing down that path with his proposed amendment that would, as Time revealed this morning, boost defense spending:

In an olive branch to defense hawks hell-bent on curtailing his White House ambitions, the libertarian Senator introduced a budget amendment late Wednesday calling for a nearly $190 billion infusion to the defense budget over the next two years—a roughly 16 percent increase.

Paul’s amendment brings him in line with his likely presidential primary rivals, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who introduced a measure calling for nearly the same level of increases just days ago. The amendment was first noticed by TIME and later confirmed by Paul’s office.

The move completes a stunning reversal for Paul, who in May 2011, after just five months in office, released his own budget that would have eliminated four agencies—Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Energy and Education—while slashing the Pentagon, a sacred cow for many Republicans. Under Paul’s original proposal, defense spending would have dropped from $553 billion in the 2011 fiscal year to $542 billion in 2016. War funding would have plummeted from $159 billion to zero. He called it the “draw-down and restructuring of the Department of Defense.”

But under Paul’s new plan, the Pentagon will see its budget authority swell by $76.5 billion to $696,776,000,000 in fiscal year 2016.

I have been sympathetic, as I’ve written in the past, to Paul’s objections to what he and his supporters see as the exaggeration of the extent of his apparent political conversions. But his claim to consistency is going to start looking absurd on its face, and his defense-spending amendment is one reason why.

The Time piece helpfully goes back about four years to show just how far Paul has come on this issue. But even as his term in the Senate went on, Paul continued to be an advocate for cutting defense spending not only on fiscal grounds but on national-security grounds as well. Paul had crafted a very clear rationale for reducing the defense budget, and even sought to draw a contrast with Mitt Romney’s own views on the subject less than a month before the 2012 presidential election. In an op-ed for CNN, Paul wrote:

Romney chose to criticize President Obama for seeking to cut a bloated Defense Department and for not being bellicose enough in the Middle East, two assertions with which I cannot agree.

Defense and war spending has grown 137% since 2001. That kind of growth is not sustainable.

Adm. Michael Mullen stated earlier this year that the biggest threat to our national security is our debt.

If debt is our gravest threat, adding to the debt by expanding military spending further threatens our national security.

Paul’s decision to sign the open letter to Iran, an effort led by Senator Tom Cotton, attracted two kinds of very interesting criticism. One was the antiwar movement’s treatment of Paul as a sellout to the cause. The other was the more muted criticism from the realist and paleoconservative right, which seemed to accept Time’s own formulation that Paul is extending an “olive branch”–or, at this point, a series of olive branches–to those with whom he disagrees. That is, their criticism of him is tempered by their belief he’s not being wholly honest.

That resulted in a moment of near-unity as conservatives pushed back on the hysterical attempt by the left to brand the dissenting senators’ actions as treasonous. There were far fewer cases of terms like “neocon warmonger” being tossed casually at those who oppose the emerging nuke deal with Iran than there might otherwise have been.

Again, muted criticism of Paul is not the same as no criticism of Paul. But suddenly hawkish policies were being combed for nuance. It was a glimpse of what the foreign-policy debate on the right could look like when advocates of greater restraint are willing to characterize hawks as something other than a cross between Dick Cheney and Dr. Strangelove.

That moment of grace will surely pass. But there are likely to be other such moments, as long as Paul continues his flirtation with a more hawkish approach to foreign affairs. The question, then, will be whether he will have mortgaged his candidacy’s raison d’être in the process and allowed his carefully cultivated image to disintegrate. To prevent that, he’ll need to find a balance between those he hopes will believe him and those he needs to assume he’s merely pretending.

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Why the 2016 Primaries Will Be a Wild Ride for the GOP

Normally, the Republican Party picks its nominee the way the British pick their monarch. The candidate “next in line” gets to run in the general election, no questions asked. Meanwhile, the Democrats are known for rollicking, unpredictable contests that stretch the full length of the primary calendar. But 2016 will probably see a reversal of the trend. The Republican field will be the raucous one, while Hillary Clinton looks to consolidate the Democratic nomination earlier than any non-incumbent in generations.

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Normally, the Republican Party picks its nominee the way the British pick their monarch. The candidate “next in line” gets to run in the general election, no questions asked. Meanwhile, the Democrats are known for rollicking, unpredictable contests that stretch the full length of the primary calendar. But 2016 will probably see a reversal of the trend. The Republican field will be the raucous one, while Hillary Clinton looks to consolidate the Democratic nomination earlier than any non-incumbent in generations.

Why the reversal? To start, the Democrats are not dealing from a position of strength. The fact is that their midterm defeats of 2010 and 2014–not just in the Senate, but state governorships as well–have decimated the party’s bench. There are precious few credible presidential candidates who could run, besides Hillary Clinton. If Joe Biden were not so gaffe-prone, he might be able to challenge her, and he might still. But beyond that their bench is weak. So, it is not so much that Clinton’s stature is much improved compared to 2008, when she faced a broad, formidable field for the nomination; it is, rather, that the quality of her would-be competitors has dropped markedly.

Meanwhile, the Republican triumphs in the Senate and governorships have created a wealth of would-be candidates. Ironically, Obama has been very good for the Republican Party. There are a plethora of prospective candidates–Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, John Kasich, Rand Paul, Mike Pence, Marco Rubio, Rick Snyder, and Scott Walker–who became a senator or governor during the Obama era, in part by running against him. Further, an unpopular Obama helped Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal cruise to their reelections, in 2010 and 2011, respectively. And the same considerations even apply to Ben Carson. Would he be running strongly in Iowa right now if he had not publicly criticized ObamaCare in front of the president?

Still, there is more to the story. Usually, we think of the Democratic Party as a motley assortment of various, often contradictory interest groups, more or less evenly matched. This is why Jimmy Carter could come from nowhere to win in 1976, why Gary Hart could almost take the nomination from Walter Mondale in 1984, why Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton could win their contests even though a majority of Democrats voted for somebody else, and ultimately why Barack Obama basically tied Hillary Clinton in 2008. Meanwhile, the Republican Party is strikingly uniform–more or less the married, white middle class–and this homogeny has facilitated its coronation process. There are just fewer disagreements among Republicans, so they come together on a nominee in an orderly fashion.

This conception of the GOP is not quite right. As I argue in my new book A Republic No More: Big Government and the Rise of American Political Corruption, the Republican Party has long been factional as well, just less so than the Democrats. In the late 19th century, for instance, it was an alliance between the middle class, Yankees of New England, industrialists and financiers, Midwestern factory workers, and Western farmers. More often than not, these groups saw eye to eye, but issues like tariffs, the gold standard, and civil-service reform could split them into factions. These divisions were nothing compared to 19th century Democrats–who somehow combined the Southern plantation gentry with the ethnic vote in the big Northern cities–but they were still there, and still mattered under the right circumstances.

Today, the same remains true. Republicans are still factional, even if they are more united than the Democrats. There is the “establishment,” which resides mostly in Democratic-controlled areas like New York City and Washington D.C., but provides the campaign contributions, experts, and consultants necessary to run campaigns; there are cultural conservatives, particularly strong in Midwest caucus states like Iowa; there are small-government reformers, who turn out to vote in New Hampshire primaries; there are pro-growth Sun Belters in states like Florida and Texas; there are pro-military Republicans, for instance in South Carolina; and there are libertarian-style Republicans, strong in Western caucus states. And so on. These groups are all closer to one another than any are to the Democrats, but there are disagreements among them. In the Obama era, there has been tension within the GOP on how quickly and aggressively the party should challenge the president, as well as what to do about immigration reform.

In fact, the Obama administration–while unifying Republicans in shared opposition to the Democratic party–has created some pretty heated disagreements within it about what to do next. We see this in Congress now, as it struggles to formulate and implement an agenda to counter Obama’s. And we probably are going to see it in the primary battle next year, as a major bone of contention will not be whether the country should depart from the Obama policies, but how dramatically it should do so.

And ironically, the strength of the prospective field is probably exacerbating the internal cleavages as well. Right now, each of those factions can point to a credible candidate who agrees predominantly with its perspective. Sometimes, there may be more than one. The establishment figures like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie. The cultural conservatives adore Ben Carson and Ted Cruz. Scott Walker is the first choice among reformers. Libertarians like Rand Paul. The field is so strong that no faction within the party is forced to say, “OK–my ideal candidate isn’t running. So, who is my compromise choice?”

Will this be a bad thing for the GOP? Possibly. Sean Trende has highlighted the possibility of no clear nominee being found prior to the convention, but that is unprecedented in the modern era. It could still happen, but nobody in the party has an interest in such disunion right before the general election. The most likely outcome is that somebody will emerge to unite a critical mass of the various forces, and become a consensus choice–maybe that candidate will not win a majority of the primary vote, but he or she will have won more than anybody else and be acceptable to all the major factions. And, just like in the free market, political competition can spark innovation and generate upside surprises. The battle will not only improve the ultimate nominee’s campaign skills, but maybe point the way to a better line of attack against Clinton in the general election. If Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” works for capitalism, it can work for Republican politics, too.

So, for now, the more, the merrier!

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ISIS’s Rise Means 2016 May Be a Foreign-Policy Election

In Britain on a trade mission, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was quizzed about foreign policy at a session at London’s Chatham House. But rather than say anything that might help bolster the potential 2016 candidate’s foreign-policy credentials, Walker channeled mid-20th century Senate giant Arthur Vandendberg and acted as if partisan politics really should stop “at the water’s edge” and avoided saying anything that might be taken as a criticism of President Obama or even an opinion about various world crises. That might be considered principled, but if Walker wants to actually win his party’s nomination he’ll have to do better in the future (as well as avoiding being trapped into giving equivocal answers about his belief in evolution). That the exchange happened the same day that Congress began considering the president’s proposal for a new war powers resolution authorizing the use of force in the Middle East also means the same lesson will apply to other candidates. Though conventional wisdom tells us that economic questions will always dominate presidential elections, the rise of ISIS has ensured that anyone who is thinking about the White House needs to have a coherent vision of American foreign policy.

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In Britain on a trade mission, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was quizzed about foreign policy at a session at London’s Chatham House. But rather than say anything that might help bolster the potential 2016 candidate’s foreign-policy credentials, Walker channeled mid-20th century Senate giant Arthur Vandendberg and acted as if partisan politics really should stop “at the water’s edge” and avoided saying anything that might be taken as a criticism of President Obama or even an opinion about various world crises. That might be considered principled, but if Walker wants to actually win his party’s nomination he’ll have to do better in the future (as well as avoiding being trapped into giving equivocal answers about his belief in evolution). That the exchange happened the same day that Congress began considering the president’s proposal for a new war powers resolution authorizing the use of force in the Middle East also means the same lesson will apply to other candidates. Though conventional wisdom tells us that economic questions will always dominate presidential elections, the rise of ISIS has ensured that anyone who is thinking about the White House needs to have a coherent vision of American foreign policy.

As our Max Boot termed it, Obama’s proposal for authorizing U.S. actions against terrorists in the Middle East is “a classic muddle.” By attempting to balance the administration’s allergic reaction to a U.S. commitment that might actually defeat ISIS while providing a legal basis for its ongoing half-hearted efforts, the president has provoked criticism from both the right and the left. But rather than being a compromise that makes sense, it merely confirms for those who weren’t already convinced that the president has no real strategy for eliminating ISIS or even for significantly “degrading” it.

It’s not clear what exactly will come out of the Congress as both House and Senate leaders struggle to come up with a formula that makes more sense than the administration’s attempt to set up one with limitations that ensures the U.S. can’t prevail in the conflict. But while his critics may demand that the president demonstrate that he has a path to victory over ISIS, they have very little leverage over his choices. No matter the outcome of the votes on a force authorization, nothing can make the president prosecute this war with conviction. Indeed, the U.S. is increasingly showing signs that the president is more interested in making common cause with Iran than in actually rolling back ISIS’s vast territorial gains in Iraq and Syria. That means the connection between Obama’s equivocal approach to the nuclear talks with Iran is not only worrisome in and of itself but a sign of an overall strategy in which the U.S. will acquiesce to Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state and obtaining regional hegemony in return for cooperation against ISIS.

All this makes it even more important than it normally might be that potential 2016 GOP presidential candidates have more to say about foreign policy than platitudes. In 2008 the presidential contest—or at least the Democratic nomination that year—was essentially decided on the basis of Barack Obama’s adamant opposition to the Iraq war. Yet every new ISIS atrocity and terror attack is going to make it harder for anyone—whether on the right or the left—to run on a platform of keeping the U.S. out of the Middle East or to avoid conflicts.

For Democrats, this might make it even harder for those outliers with the temerity to challenge the Hillary Clinton juggernaut to get some traction by outflanking her on the left with another anti-war campaign. For Republicans, the more attention paid to ISIS murders of Americans, the harder it will be for Rand Paul to break out from the ideological box that his libertarian isolationist base has put him.

Nevertheless, Republican candidates need to do more than merely carp at Obama or issue ringing rhetoric about fighting terror. Unlike in 2008 and 2012, when many Americans thought they were electing a president to get them out of unpopular wars, the force authorization vote ensures that whoever wins next year will be leading a war effort that may well dominate their presidencies.

Unless something very unexpected happens in the next year, Republican candidates will be competing in primaries where they will be expected to tell us how they are prepared to beat an enemy that is, contrary to President Obama’s assurances, very much not on the run. That gives an advantage to a candidate like Senator Marco Rubio, who has been speaking with some authority on foreign policy throughout his first term in the Senate. Jeb Bush will have to also show whether his approach to foreign policy is, as some reports have indicated, a knockoff of his father’s “realist” policies that may not provide much of a contrast with Obama’s equivocations. By contrast, it puts those GOP governors that many of us have been assuming will be formidable candidates on the spot to quickly get up to speed on foreign policy. Walker is not the only one who fits in that category, but after his recent surge in the polls in Iowa, it’s obvious that if he wants to stay on top, he’s going to have to say something more than “no comment” about Iran.

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Rand Paul Can’t Have Best of Both Worlds

Rand Paul is on the stump in Iowa this week and, according to the Wall Street Journal, he’s beating the bushes seeking to mobilize his father’s libertarian base to support his own 2016 presidential hopes. That’s smart politics for the Kentucky senator, who knows that if he can hold onto the 2012 Paulbots who turned out for his father Ron and add on to them a significant percentage of Tea Partiers and other Republican voters not attracted to other candidates, he can create a coalition that will vault him into the first tier of GOP candidates and give him an outside–but by no means insignificant–chance to win his party’s presidential nomination. But his attempt to make gestures toward what the New York Times refers to as the “middle” of the party while simultaneously winking at libertarians is telling us more about the contradiction at the heart of the Paul candidacy than about its viability.

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Rand Paul is on the stump in Iowa this week and, according to the Wall Street Journal, he’s beating the bushes seeking to mobilize his father’s libertarian base to support his own 2016 presidential hopes. That’s smart politics for the Kentucky senator, who knows that if he can hold onto the 2012 Paulbots who turned out for his father Ron and add on to them a significant percentage of Tea Partiers and other Republican voters not attracted to other candidates, he can create a coalition that will vault him into the first tier of GOP candidates and give him an outside–but by no means insignificant–chance to win his party’s presidential nomination. But his attempt to make gestures toward what the New York Times refers to as the “middle” of the party while simultaneously winking at libertarians is telling us more about the contradiction at the heart of the Paul candidacy than about its viability.

As I wrote last week, Paul’s stand on vaccination revealed the main obstacle to his hopes for a libertarian coup that would topple his party’s establishment. Though he was at pains to try and show that he was personally supportive of vaccination, his rhetoric about choice and intrusive government was not just a wink in the direction of the activists who enabled his father to make respectable showings in both 2008 and especially in 2012. It was an indication that his core political philosophy remained deeply influenced by his father’s extreme libertarianism.

The same is true of his speeches this week about the need to reform the Federal Reserve and to change America’s approach to foreign policy to one less engaged in struggles overseas.

Though many Republicans are not unsympathetic to hostile rhetoric about the fed or even Ron Paul’s obsession about the Gold Standard, reviving these issues are about ginning up libertarian enthusiasm, not winning over non-libertarian conservatives. The same is true for Paul’s sounding the note of retreat from conflict in the Middle East.

In 2013 the supposed end of America’s long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the fading of terrorism as an issue seemed to present a golden opportunity for Paul to mainstream his neo-isolationist foreign-policy views. Calling himself a “realist” in the mode of the first President Bush, the senator believed disillusionment with George W. Bush’s wars and suspicion about the Obama administration’s continuance of much of that last Republican president’s national-security policies would enable him to rout the establishment that had disposed of his father’s challenges with ease.

But the notion that Republicans were ever to going to embrace a foreign-policy mindset that was actually closer to that of Obama than traditional GOP stands about a strong America was always something of an illusion. The rise of ISIS as a result of Obama’s decisions to abandon America’s foreign responsibilities jolted the nation back into reality. Though most do not want another land war in Syria and Iraq, there is a growing consensus, especially among Republicans, that the current crisis is a result of a failure of leadership and vision.

Conservatives are angry about having a president who reacts to terrorist atrocities with talk about moral equivalence to the West’s past. Obama’s failure is not merely tactical as the U.S. continues to struggle to come up with a war-winning strategy for dealing with ISIS and dabbles in appeasement of Iran. It’s that he can’t articulate American values in a coherent way so as to rally the country to the task of defeating these barbarians.

Paul has his virtues, but on this point he is particularly deficient. Since his views on foreign policy reflect Obama’s lack of conviction in the rightness of America’s cause abroad, he is in no position to make a coherent critique of the administration. While other Republicans seek to provide an alternative that speaks to this glaring problem, Paul is wandering the countryside in Iowa talking about what the Journal describes as a “less bellicose” foreign policy and seeking to make it harder for U.S. intelligence to seek out terrorists, not exactly the message most people want to hear when Islamist murderers are burning people alive and beheading American hostages.

That is exactly what Ron Paul’s supporters, many of whom haven’t been too happy with Rand’s tiptoeing toward the center in the last two years, want to hear. Ron Paul’s views are, of course, far more extreme than those of his son. Paul famously greeted the Republican victory in the midterms that his son worked so hard to help achieve by warning that it would mean more “neocon” wars. But while Ron Paul’s vision of American foreign policy is a carbon copy of what might be heard on the far left and is the sort of thing that got his supporters out to the polls, such ideas are anathema to the rest of the party.

The same is true of vaccination. For libertarians, the senator’s talk of making childhood vaccinations voluntary is catnip. But for the mainstream of his party, let alone the rest of the country, this is ideological extremism that is doing real damage to public health policy.

Paul thought he could romance mainstream Republicans while holding onto his father’s backers. That may have seemed like a viable plan in 2013. The political realities of 2015 have turned it into a fantasy and made his hopes for 2016 seem much more like a long shot than he may have thought. The contradiction at the core of his candidacy is proving too great for him to resolve.

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