Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ron Paul

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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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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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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Rand Can’t Inoculate Himself Against Vaccine Flap

In his four years since winning a Kentucky Senate seat, Rand Paul has labored long and hard to establish an identity that would cause voters to see him as both smarter and less extreme than his father Ron. Up until this last week, he had largely succeeded as he expanded upon the libertarian base Ron Paul had built and, though the increased concern about ISIS and terrorism has undermined his appeal, added new fans that liked his stands against administration policy. But all that hard work may come to nothing because of his statement about vaccination. Paul may have thought he was just venting some standard libertarian suspicion about government involvement in heath care on Monday when he said vaccination should be a matter of individual choice for parents and that he had heard from parents who believe the shots were responsible for “profound mental disorders” in their children. But the comments may do more harm to his 2016 presidential hopes than the ocean of ink that has been spilled by those seeking to point out the flaws in his views on foreign policy.

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In his four years since winning a Kentucky Senate seat, Rand Paul has labored long and hard to establish an identity that would cause voters to see him as both smarter and less extreme than his father Ron. Up until this last week, he had largely succeeded as he expanded upon the libertarian base Ron Paul had built and, though the increased concern about ISIS and terrorism has undermined his appeal, added new fans that liked his stands against administration policy. But all that hard work may come to nothing because of his statement about vaccination. Paul may have thought he was just venting some standard libertarian suspicion about government involvement in heath care on Monday when he said vaccination should be a matter of individual choice for parents and that he had heard from parents who believe the shots were responsible for “profound mental disorders” in their children. But the comments may do more harm to his 2016 presidential hopes than the ocean of ink that has been spilled by those seeking to point out the flaws in his views on foreign policy.

Paul appears to be furious about the way his remarks have been interpreted and has repeated that he personally supports vaccination. He even offered to have a New York Times reporter accompany him to get a Hepatitis A booster shot. But, unlike the problem that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie created for himself earlier this week when he, too, made some remarks about “choice” with respect to vaccination, this can’t be easily spun away. As our John Podhoretz wrote today in the New York Post, that mistake could have been the result of a mistaken political instinct to avoid giving offense to those who are opposed to vaccines. I also believe it is the natural result of his predilection for shooting from the hip, a characteristic that has both built his reputation as a straight shooter but also inevitably leads to gaffes.

But Paul’s problem is not an example of a politician foolishly expanding on remarks when he should just stick to bland statements of fact. His beliefs about vaccination and government, not to mention his willingness to air unsubstantiated scare stories about the side effects of vaccines, illustrates a basic flaw in the Kentucky senator’s political makeup. Great leaders like Ronald Reagan were able to tap into voter mistrust of intrusive big government in order to articulate a vision of a country where individual initiative could prevail. But Paul’s beliefs are rooted in a dark, conspiracy-filled world in which government is not just a problem but also the enemy.

Republican primary voters got a taste of this anti-vaccination lunacy in the 2012 cycle when Michele Bachmann touted her opposition to the HPV vaccine as part of an effort to undermine the tottering campaign of Texas Governor Rick Perry who had supported the effort to get teenagers inoculated. Bachmann’s citation of anecdotal evidence that this vaccine had terrible side effects discredited her candidacy. Now Paul, with the unwitting assistance of Christie, has stepped onto the same land mine.

Though Paul is treating the focus on his views as a liberal media conspiracy, the concern about vaccines wasn’t hatched in the fertile imagination of a biased press corps. The outbreak of measles that originated in Disneyland has brought to the forefront an issue that has been percolating on the margins for years. A growing anti-vaccine movement promoted by celebrities has peddled bogus science about the shots causing autism or other disorders. This has led to a decline in vaccinations that has given new life to preventable diseases that most Americans had stopped worrying about.

It’s all well and good for people like Paul to try to apply libertarian principles that, in other contexts, all Americans should embrace, to a wide variety of topics. But when it comes to public health, an individual’s right to avoid vaccines impinges on the rights of the community to raise their children without fear of deadly diseases that were believed to be on the brink of extinction not long ago. It’s one thing to talk of the imperative of individual freedom when it comes to a nationalized health-care scheme such as ObamaCare that imposes decisions on individuals and companies and prevents them from making the choices that make sense for them. The same is true with respect to education issues such as school choice and the right to home school kids. We may all agree that, as Paul said, “The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children.” But to apply that belief to an effort to support those who are creating what may eventually prove to a far greater threat to public health than Ebola or some other exotic disease is another thing entirely.

Paul’s statements are significant because, unlike Christie’s foolish comments, they weren’t gaffes but rooted in longstanding beliefs. Much is being made today of Paul’s membership in a doctor’s group that, among other things, has publicized discredited medical theories aimed at undermining public support for vaccination. But rather than harp on his membership, which may have lapsed when he entered the Senate, we should be thinking long and hard about the way his views on this issue reflect a profoundly disturbing view of the world.

Paul has been able to distinguish his own wildly inconsistent foreign-policy views from those of an extremist like his father who views American power as a force for evil in the world. His ability to perform that trick was an act of political genius, especially when you consider that he has always supported his father’s positions in the past. Isolationism or a neo-isolationism that Paul has falsely dubbed a new “realism” can appear defensible in the context of past American blunders abroad. But by defending outlier extremists who are endangering the lives of other citizens because of their bizarre beliefs about medicine or organic food, Paul has planted his feet firmly in extremist territory. Indeed, in doing so he has made the most extreme of his potential rivals for the 2016 presidential nomination—Dr. Ben Carson—look like a model of moderate common sense.

Vaccination may not remain an important issue in the coming year and it would be foolish to dismiss Paul’s chances altogether. But the memory of Paul’s stand will linger. If his once promising campaign ultimately fizzles, we may look back on this controversy as the moment when he started slipping back into the margins where his father always dwelt.

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The Isolationist Declares War

Almost 73 years after the Day of Infamy plunged the United States into the maelstrom of World War Two, and after having fought several major wars since then without benefit of a congressional declaration, is it time for another one? Senator Rand Paul says yes and can deploy powerful arguments on behalf of his proposal for a declaration of war on ISIS instead of a new authorization for the use of force in the Middle East to replace or supersede those passed in 2001 and 2002 to deal with the conflicts with al Qaeda and in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the questions we should be asking about this have as much to do with Paul’s efforts to recast his image as an isolationist as they are with the merits of a resolution that may restrict a military effort that is being carried out in a half-hearted way by an Obama administration that is no more interested in carrying the fight to the enemy than Paul may be.

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Almost 73 years after the Day of Infamy plunged the United States into the maelstrom of World War Two, and after having fought several major wars since then without benefit of a congressional declaration, is it time for another one? Senator Rand Paul says yes and can deploy powerful arguments on behalf of his proposal for a declaration of war on ISIS instead of a new authorization for the use of force in the Middle East to replace or supersede those passed in 2001 and 2002 to deal with the conflicts with al Qaeda and in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the questions we should be asking about this have as much to do with Paul’s efforts to recast his image as an isolationist as they are with the merits of a resolution that may restrict a military effort that is being carried out in a half-hearted way by an Obama administration that is no more interested in carrying the fight to the enemy than Paul may be.

In one way, Paul’s proposal makes a great deal of sense. For decades presidents have carried out military campaigns without a declaration of war, creating an imperial presidency that gives the executive more power than the Founders would have liked. A declaration would create, at least in theory, more accountability as well as restoring some needed constitutional balance to the way foreign and defense policy is carried out.

But as much as this makes some superficial sense, Paul’s intentions have more to do with both restricting the scope of the war against radical Islamist terrorist and posing as a responsible would-be commander in chief than it does with actually winning the war against ISIS and its allies in Iraq and Syria.

Paul’s proposed declaration, like some of the other potential new authorizations of force circulating in Congress, would preclude the use of ground troops against ISIS except in highly restricted circumstances. That actually dovetails nicely with President Obama’s stance on the war that has been carried out in a half-hearted way that makes it hard to envision the kind of rollback of ISIS gains in both Iraq and Syria that will be required for victory against the group.

Like Obama, Paul’s objective here is not military victory—the object of any real declaration of war—but giving the country the impression that the U.S. is doing something about a problem that has rightly scared the American public without actually fighting a war.

But unlike Obama, Paul’s goal is also to convince the majority of Republicans that he is not an isolationist. Since Paul began his planning for a presidential campaign after the conclusion of the 2012 campaign, the Kentucky senator’s goal has been to rebrand himself as an old-fashioned foreign-policy realist instead of being seen as the son of the leader of a rabid band of extremist libertarians. Rand is a smarter, slicker, and cooler version of his father Ron, a fire-breathing radical who lamented on Twitter the victory of his son’s party in the midterm elections because he envisaged that it would lead to “neocon wars” with “boots on the ground.”

The senator’s approach to foreign and defense policy doesn’t have the same feel as that of his father. Unlike Ron, Rand does not use rhetoric—or at least not anymore—that makes him seem to the left of Barack Obama and liberal Democrats on foreign policy. In that sense, a declaration of war is a twofer for Rand in that it enables him to look like someone serious about fighting terrorists that the public fears while also sounding some of the Constitutional arguments about presidential overreach that endeared him to conservatives last year when his drone filibuster galvanized the nation.

But the declaration is more a matter of posturing than a genuine foreign-policy alternative. In the unlikely event that it passed, it would serve to limit not just presidential abuses of power but take away the leeway that any president needs to defend the nation in an age where threats and enemies are very different from the ones Franklin Roosevelt’s America faced in 1941.

That’s why Senator James Inhofe’s idea of a new resolution authorizing force that would give the president “all necessary and appropriate force” to use against ISIS while requiring the White House to regularly report to Congress on the war makes far more sense than Paul’s declaration in terms of what is needed to actually win the conflict.

Thanks to ISIS and Obama’s disastrous Middle East policies, the libertarian moment that convulsed American politics in 2013 is over. In seeking to position himself as someone willing to fight wars, Paul has made progress toward becoming more of a mainstream political figure, something that is necessary if he is to have a chance at the GOP presidential nomination in 2016. But what this discussion illustrates is that the real problem is not whether Congress passes a declaration of war or a new resolution authorizing the use of force but what kind of a commander in chief the country is saddled with. With an Obama or a Rand Paul, America will have someone who doesn’t want to be seen as weak but who is not interested in a serious effort to defeat threats to the country’s security. That is something Republicans who rightly take a dim view of the president’s policies should think about before they buy into Paul’s proposal or his bid for the nomination.

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Can Rand Paul Win Without Father’s Fans?

Of all the potential serious candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, only one isn’t playing it coy about their ambition. Senator Rand Paul is bypassing the traditional pretense of indecision prior to announcing and is leaving no doubt that he is planning on running in 2016. The Kentucky senator convened a meeting of advisors to plan the start of his campaign today in Washington but, as the Wall Street Journal reported, there was one important person missing from the conclave: Ron Paul, the former House member and perennial libertarian presidential candidate who also happens to be Rand’s father. But while this absence is in one sense a very good thing for his son’s ambitions, the growing gap between Rand and his father raises the question of whether he can win without his father’s supporters.

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Of all the potential serious candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, only one isn’t playing it coy about their ambition. Senator Rand Paul is bypassing the traditional pretense of indecision prior to announcing and is leaving no doubt that he is planning on running in 2016. The Kentucky senator convened a meeting of advisors to plan the start of his campaign today in Washington but, as the Wall Street Journal reported, there was one important person missing from the conclave: Ron Paul, the former House member and perennial libertarian presidential candidate who also happens to be Rand’s father. But while this absence is in one sense a very good thing for his son’s ambitions, the growing gap between Rand and his father raises the question of whether he can win without his father’s supporters.

Putting some distance between himself and his father has always been a prerequisite for Paul’s presidential hopes. While his father was able to count on a small but active segment of those who voted in Republican presidential primaries, his extreme libertarianism and foreign-policy views that put him to the left of President Obama ensured that Ron Paul never was going to be nominated by the GOP, let alone win the presidency.

Rand had a different plan. Much slicker and more attuned to mainstream opinion than his father, the senator’s goal was to hold on to the libertarian base that he presumed he would inherit from his father and add Tea Party Republicans who admired his principled stands against taxes and spending. Paul won the admiration of a wide range of conservatives last year with his filibuster against President Obama’s drone policies even if many didn’t agree with him on the issue. In an environment in which his neo-isolationist views, carefully parsed to avoid the label of extremism that stuck to his father, had become respectable, Paul was certain to be a first-tier primary candidate. Moreover, in what is expected to be a crowded field in which none of his potential rivals could count on a base as solid as his, there was a clear, if by no means certain, path to the nomination for him.

For those who have followed the senator for the last few years, his attempts to move into the mainstream on foreign-policy issues has been inextricably linked to his presidential ambitions. Though he was an ardent follower of his father when he began his political career, over the course of the last four years in the Senate he has carefully edged his way back into the mainstream. He eschewed his father’s extreme positions on foreign policy and tried to position himself as the avatar of a new generation of foreign-policy “realism.” That put him at odds with neo-conservatives and others in the party’s center on a whole range of issues but was a far cry from his father’s ranting about American imperialism and rationalizations of the behavior of Iran and other Islamist terror sponsors. He tried the same delicate dance on the issue of Israel in which he continued to oppose all foreign aid but also claimed to be a friend of the Jewish state and an opponent of those who would pressure it.

But the senator shocked some of his original libertarian fans recently when he realized that the isolationist moment had ended and endorsed air attacks against ISIS terrorists. In doing so he did what all people who have caught the presidential bug do when they think they have a reasonable chance of winning: abandoning their old positions in the vain support of those who would otherwise not vote for him. That makes Rand Paul a normal politician but it also brands him as a turncoat to his father’s libertarian true believers.

Moreover, in case anyone was in doubt as to what Ron Paul thought about this, they only had to follow him on Twitter where, on election night last week, he had this reaction to a Republican victory that his son was very publicly celebrating:

Republican control of the Senate = expanded neocon wars in Syria and Iraq. Boots on the ground are coming!

This statement changes the dynamic for his son’s presidential campaign. The more Ron Paul denounces the mainstream Republican Party and stays away from his son’s campaign, the easier it will be for his son to ignore those who will say he needs to be held responsible for his father’s extremism. Rather than being Rand’s Jeremiah Wright, Ron may well have no trouble denouncing his son’s apostasy from the libertarian true faith. That will help Rand get more centrist or conservative votes but there’s one element to this equation that doesn’t work in his favor.

It’s one thing for Rand to distance himself from his father’s beliefs but quite another for the Paulbots that energetically campaigned and voted for Ron to abandon him. The plan was, after all, for him to retain his father’s backers while adding mainstream Tea Party or mainstream Republicans who wanted no part of the senior Paul’s extremist views on foreign policy. But if they abandon him altogether, then he will be heading into the primaries without the core constituency that gives him such a strong profile.

The math of the Republican primaries is such that if the Paulbots don’t turn out for Rand it’s hard to see how he wins. Though his father’s following comprised only a minority of GOP voters, they were ardent and well organized, enabling them to win delegates for him in caucus states even though they didn’t represent the views of most Republicans. Added to his new more mainstream fans, they could provide the shock troops of a libertarian push to win the GOP for Rand. But in their absence (and most would stay home or return to their Democratic roots rather than embrace a man whom some would call sellout), Rand will be on an equal footing with other Republican candidates and that spells defeat for him.

This illustrates how difficult it is for an outlier to become a mainstream candidate. Though many libertarians would stick with Paul, if enough don’t, he will wind up falling very short of his goal. Though his father provided the inspiration for his political career, it may be that he will also help end it.

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The Problem with Rand Paul

In his column earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens laid out his case against Rand Paul becoming the GOP’s presidential nominee. It was a powerful indictment and perhaps one worth building on.  

Mr. Stephens highlighted what he believes would be some of the obstacles facing Senator Paul, beginning with his long political association with Jack Hunter, alias the “Southern Avenger,” who among other things wrote an April 13, 2004 column titled “John Wilkes Booth Was Right.”

The “Southern Avenger” said this:

Although Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth’s heart was in the right place, the Southern Avenger does regret that Lincoln’s murder automatically turned him into a martyr. American heroes like Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee have been unfairly attacked in recent years, but Abraham Lincoln is still regarded as a saint. Well, he wasn’t it – far from it. In fact, not only was Abraham Lincoln the worst President, but one of the worst figures in American history… The fact that April 15th is both the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination and tax day makes perfect sense. We might not even have had a federal income tax if it weren’t for him. And I imagine somewhere in hell Abe Lincoln is probably having the last laugh.


Here is Jack Hunter, writing in his own name, declaring in 2009 that “Hitler was an admirer of the 16th president for all the obvious reasons.” (The adjective “obvious” is such a nice touch.) Later that year, again in a column bearing Hunter’s name, we read this:

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In his column earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens laid out his case against Rand Paul becoming the GOP’s presidential nominee. It was a powerful indictment and perhaps one worth building on.  

Mr. Stephens highlighted what he believes would be some of the obstacles facing Senator Paul, beginning with his long political association with Jack Hunter, alias the “Southern Avenger,” who among other things wrote an April 13, 2004 column titled “John Wilkes Booth Was Right.”

The “Southern Avenger” said this:

Although Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth’s heart was in the right place, the Southern Avenger does regret that Lincoln’s murder automatically turned him into a martyr. American heroes like Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee have been unfairly attacked in recent years, but Abraham Lincoln is still regarded as a saint. Well, he wasn’t it – far from it. In fact, not only was Abraham Lincoln the worst President, but one of the worst figures in American history… The fact that April 15th is both the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination and tax day makes perfect sense. We might not even have had a federal income tax if it weren’t for him. And I imagine somewhere in hell Abe Lincoln is probably having the last laugh.


Here is Jack Hunter, writing in his own name, declaring in 2009 that “Hitler was an admirer of the 16th president for all the obvious reasons.” (The adjective “obvious” is such a nice touch.) Later that year, again in a column bearing Hunter’s name, we read this:

In 1999, I already thought Americans were too different: “America is becoming more diverse and multicultural which means the multiplicity of ideas and values will increase. Only states’ rights, the heart of the Confederate cause, can meet this challenge.”

If divorce is considered preferable to a marriage that can’t be fixed, might not divorce also be preferable to a political union that has failed as well? The Jeffersonian, decentralist philosophy and all-American radicalism I embraced fully in my youth makes even more sense today [2009] than in 1999. Whether revisiting states’ rights or going the route of full-blown secession, it would be far more logical to allow the many, very different parts of this country to pursue their own visions than to keep pretending we are all looking through the same lens. And looking back on my own past, I am reminded that any future South worth avenging would do well to revisit its own radical heritage — so that the principles of limited government might rise again.

Chris Haire, Hunter’s former editor at the Charleston City Paper, wrote this

While a member of the City Paper’s stable of freelancers, Jack wrote in support of racially profiling Hispanics, praised white supremacist Sam Francis, blasted the House of Representative’s apology for slavery, claimed that black people should apologize to white people for high crime rates, defended former Atlanta Braves pitcher and racist John Rocker and Charleston County School District board member Nancy Cook after she said some mothers should be sterilized, argued that Islam was an innately dangerous threat to the U.S, professed that he would have voted for a member a British neo-Nazi political party if he could have, considered endorsing former Council of Conservative Citizens member Buddy Witherspoon in his bid to unseat Sen. Lindsey Graham, compared Abraham Lincoln to Adolf Hitler and Ike Turner, and continued to profess the erroneous claim that the primary cause of the Civil War was not the fight over slavery, ignoring the decades of American history leading up to war and South Carolina’s very own Declaration of the Immediate Causes for Secession, which clearly note that protecting slavery was the preeminent motivation of state leaders. 

People are free to judge these columns individually, but there does seem to be a disturbing pattern here, no? Remember this, too: All of this was in the public domain before Hunter joined Senator Paul’s staff. So how exactly does such a thing happen?

Mr. Hunter–who was also the former chairman of the Charleston, South Carolina chapter of the League of the South, a secessionist group–was Senator Paul’s social media director, a person whose foreign-policy views Paul reportedly sought out, and the self-described co-author of Mr. Paul’s 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington. He was also the official blogger for Representative Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign. 

Last summer, after controversy of his writings broke out based on a story by the Washington Free Beacon’s Alana Goodman, Hunter left Senator Paul’s staff. Earlier that year, Hunter wrote, “From 2010 until today, I have constantly been accused of being a propagandist for Rand Paul. It is true. I believe in Sen. Paul 100%. I have been waiting for a political figure of his type to emerge my entire life.” 

Senator Paul, who called Hunter’s writings “stupid”  and distanced himself from them, told The Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman that he had only known “vaguely” about Hunter’s writings. Hunter, Paul said, “is incredibly talented. Look and listen to the actual words and not to the headlines, people.”

Having looked at both, I can say with some confidence that the actual words are worse than the headlines.

The Journal’s Bret Stephens then focuses his column on a YouTube video of Paul in April 2009, warning that the Iraq war was started because of Dick Cheney’s connections to Halliburton. (An additional video of Paul repeatedly invoking his father Ron and criticizing Cheney can be found here.) It tells you quite a lot that Mr. Paul, without a shred of evidence, would accuse the last Republican vice president of leading America to war not because he was wrong but because he was malevolent, wanting to enrich a company for which he had been CEO.

But that’s still not where Senator Paul’s troubles end.

Despite his efforts insisting otherwise, Senator Paul was a critic of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, at least an important part of it. His opposition was not based on racism but rather on an ideological–and in this case, a libertarian–commitment.

“I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners — I abhor racism,” Paul said. “I think it’s a bad business decision to ever exclude anybody from your restaurant. But, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I think there should absolutely be no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that’s most of what I think the Civil Rights Act was about in my mind.”

There’s something else Paul said in this interview that’s worth noting. He said that one of the reasons he admired Martin Luther King Jr. is that he was “a true believer.”

“What I don’t like most about politics is almost none of them are believers,” Paul said. “And [King] was a true believer.”

So, in a very different way, is Rand Paul. He is a deeply committed libertarian–not in the bizarre and offensive way his father is, but in much nicer and neater package. (Some of the people Mr. Paul has surrounded himself with seem to be another matter.)

Rand Paul can come across as agreeable, intelligent, reasonable, with rounded rather than sharp edges. But make no mistake: he’s a “conviction politician” who is intent on reshaping his party and then his country. At the same time, he’s developed something of a talent at not revealing too much about his true views. He knows they are out of step, and in some cases directly at odds, with the views of many Republicans and indeed many Americans. And so these days he picks his targets rather carefully–the NSA, drones, foreign aid, drug legalization.

But one senses that those issues are just above the waterline–and there are others far below it that Paul would just as soon keep that way, at least until he is in a position to advance his agenda. That’s why I’d encourage you to watch the video links above. There you will see a Rand Paul who is more impolitic, more unalloyed, and I think more authentic.

I don’t believe Rand Paul is a bigot. I do think he’s a true believer. And if he runs for the presidency, it’s a fair question for Republicans to ask what it is about Senator Paul’s political beliefs that would inspire the loyalty of people like Jack Hunter. There may be a perfectly good answer to this question. Or not. But we do know this: if Republicans don’t ask it of Senator Paul, a Democratic nominee surely would.

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The Flawed Christie-Giuliani Narrative

The political press has picked up the comparison between Chris Christie 2016 and Rudy Giuliani 2008 with gusto. This is a flawed comparison, though one can understand why reporters would be drawn to it. It fits a preexisting narrative and offers superficial similarities. But the problem is not only that the parallels may be weaker than they seem (they almost always are); it’s that the initial frames are wrong to begin with, and the press end up comparing new candidates to former candidates who never really existed.

That’s especially true in Giuliani’s case, since the “first draft of history” written about his campaign is demonstrably false. Yet it has somehow become Giuliani’s story anyway. And it finds its way into even solid stories by knowledgeable reporters. For example, here’s Politico’s latest on the Christie-Rudy comparison. It does a good job debunking many of the supposed similarities, but then we find this, as a red flag:

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The political press has picked up the comparison between Chris Christie 2016 and Rudy Giuliani 2008 with gusto. This is a flawed comparison, though one can understand why reporters would be drawn to it. It fits a preexisting narrative and offers superficial similarities. But the problem is not only that the parallels may be weaker than they seem (they almost always are); it’s that the initial frames are wrong to begin with, and the press end up comparing new candidates to former candidates who never really existed.

That’s especially true in Giuliani’s case, since the “first draft of history” written about his campaign is demonstrably false. Yet it has somehow become Giuliani’s story anyway. And it finds its way into even solid stories by knowledgeable reporters. For example, here’s Politico’s latest on the Christie-Rudy comparison. It does a good job debunking many of the supposed similarities, but then we find this, as a red flag:

There are two constants between Giuliani and Christie – advisers Mike DuHaime and Maria Comella.

DuHaime, Giuliani’s presidential campaign manager, is a senior adviser to Christie since 2009. Comella, a Giuliani presidential campaign press aide, is Christie’s communications director.

DuHaime came under fire for Giuliani’s failed “Florida firewall” strategy, but has since been integral to Christie’s two successful campaigns. Comella is broadly respected and her team has shown the kind of web proficiency necessary in a modern campaign. …

Craig Robinson, a former executive director of the Iowa Republican Party and founder of The Iowa Republican website, argued that Christie’s team needs to show more than they did with Giulian (sic). If they do, he said, “the sky’s the limit” for Christie.

This “Florida firewall” myth has stuck, but it’s just that–a myth. That’s due in large part to Giuliani himself, who wanted to deflect concern about his early primary losses by suggesting he was waiting for Florida to turn the tide. But that’s not actually what happened.

“Rudy Giuliani would bypass early-voting Iowa and New Hampshire on his way to more moderate, voter-rich states like Florida and California, many pundits once predicted,” scoffed the New York Daily News in October 2007. “But a look at the presidential hopeful’s campaign datebook shows the former mayor is hunkering down in the two early battlegrounds far more than in other primary states.”

The Daily News backed up its headline, “Rudy Giuliani defies critics, campaigns hard in early states,” by reporting that Giuliani had spent more time in New Hampshire and Iowa than did John McCain, who eventually went on to win the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. The Daily News was onto something. In January 2008, after the New Hampshire primary in which Giuliani placed fourth, Jake Tapper and Karen Travers reported for ABC News that Giuliani held more events in New Hampshire than McCain, Mike Huckabee, Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton did.

And it wasn’t just events. Giuliani spent millions on television advertising in New Hampshire–almost as much as McCain and more than Huckabee and Ron Paul combined. So what happened? Tapper and Travers explained:

But after a few weeks, when his poll numbers traveled downward instead of in the preferred direction, the former mayor’s campaign said it would stick with his original plan. In December an anonymous “top Giuliani aide” told The Politico newspaper that the new plan would allow the former mayor’s campaign “to marshal our resources for Florida and Feb. 5, while keeping options open for changes in the early states.”

He was competing and still losing, so he told Politico that he wasn’t really trying, that he was waiting for Florida and letting the other candidates tussle over the early states while he built his “firewall.” And so the “Florida firewall” story was ingested by Politico and remains a fixture of Giuliani-related stories to this day.

And now that Christie employs one of the same Giuliani advisors who was an architect of a plan that ultimately stayed on the shelf, the other comparisons between the candidates come alive, as if Christie would–or even could–run the same kind of campaign Giuliani did.

He can’t, though. Giuliani had to lean on 9/11 to a certain degree because he was otherwise incompatible with Republican primary voters. The former mayor ran as a pro-choice Republican. Christie is pro-life. And though Giuliani proved himself on 9/11 to be the kind of leader the country could count on in a crisis, national-security issues just don’t tend to dominate presidential elections.

Overall, the two candidates have major differences on nearly every subject of consequence. Yes, they’re both from the Northeast. But if political reporters can’t tell the difference between candidates because they hail from states near each other, 2016 is going to be a long silly season.

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Christie’s Rivals Should Pipe Down

It is to be expected that those who are likely to oppose Chris Christie for the 2016 presidential nomination are not joining in the chorus of hosannas for the New Jersey governor after his landslide reelection on Tuesday. But the transparent nature of the carping being thrown in his direction by some of them is not doing them or their future prospects much good. As Rand Paul, his father Ron, and Marco Rubio proved, sometimes you’re better off not trying to rain on the other guy’s parade even if every fiber of your being is impelling you to do so.

Among the top political viral videos from yesterday was Senator Paul’s rant aimed at Christie during a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee meeting. Picking up the gauntlet thrown down a year ago by Christie about conservatives stalling a Hurricane Sandy relief bill, Paul groused about some of the aid money being spent on tourism ads encouraging people to visit the Jersey Shore in the summer after the disaster. While Paul tried to make an issue about federal aid being spent on ads, his real problem was the fact that the ads featured an appearance by somebody “running for office” (named Chris Christie) and went on to complain about this being a “conflict of interest.” While he might have had a small point, it was lost amid his obvious ill humor at anything that might have done his potential rival a spot of good.

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It is to be expected that those who are likely to oppose Chris Christie for the 2016 presidential nomination are not joining in the chorus of hosannas for the New Jersey governor after his landslide reelection on Tuesday. But the transparent nature of the carping being thrown in his direction by some of them is not doing them or their future prospects much good. As Rand Paul, his father Ron, and Marco Rubio proved, sometimes you’re better off not trying to rain on the other guy’s parade even if every fiber of your being is impelling you to do so.

Among the top political viral videos from yesterday was Senator Paul’s rant aimed at Christie during a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee meeting. Picking up the gauntlet thrown down a year ago by Christie about conservatives stalling a Hurricane Sandy relief bill, Paul groused about some of the aid money being spent on tourism ads encouraging people to visit the Jersey Shore in the summer after the disaster. While Paul tried to make an issue about federal aid being spent on ads, his real problem was the fact that the ads featured an appearance by somebody “running for office” (named Chris Christie) and went on to complain about this being a “conflict of interest.” While he might have had a small point, it was lost amid his obvious ill humor at anything that might have done his potential rival a spot of good.

Let’s specify that the practice of incumbent governors, including those running for reelection, appearing on their state’s tourism ads is a bit cheesy. But it is something that virtually all of them do and few people have ever bothered to complain about it. But for Paul to claim that trying to convince people in neighboring states that generally spend part of their summers at New Jersey’s beach and boardwalk towns that the region had recovered sufficiently from the hurricane was a waste of federal aid dollars is a weak argument. Taken altogether, the sour manner in which Paul lashed out at Christie didn’t hurt the governor and only made the senator, who has been taking shots over alleged plagiarism charges lately, look like a sore loser.

The same could be said of Paul’s father going on Fox News to predict that all the praise being thrown Christie’s way was pointless because he was just another “McCain and Romney.” That’ll be a talking point for Christie’s opponents in 2016, but does anyone—even the most hardcore libertarian Paulbots—think Christie is, as the elder Paul says, “wishy washy?” That kind of rhetoric is not likely to persuade many conservatives to vote for his son Rand.

Just as awkward was the dance that Marco Rubio tried to do when asked about Christie by Dana Bash on CNN yesterday. Unlike the Pauls, Rubio tried hard not to sound like a jerk. He congratulated Christie, praised him as a tough competitor, and said he has a good relationship with him and likes the governor. But his attempt to downplay the significance of Christie’s win again was the part of the interview that got the most play and it betrayed the senator’s obvious discomfort at the way Christie has become the national political flavor of the month.

With more than two years to go before a single vote is cast in a Republican primary or caucus, Christie will have plenty of opportunities to flip-flop on a key issue or to display his famously thin skin and hair-trigger temper. But right now, the best thing his GOP rivals can do is to pipe down and let him enjoy the moment. Getting in the middle of the discussion about Christie’s ability to win the votes of demographic sectors that don’t normally vote Republican is an invitation to a bad sound bite for anyone thinking of running against him.

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Ted and Rand’s Father Problem

Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have a lot in common. Both senators have engaged in symbolic filibusters this year against Obama administration policies and have led the charge against ObamaCare and the so-called Republican establishment. And both would also like to be president, something that could, if they run, place them in a fierce competition for Tea Party primary voters in 2016. But they also have something else in common: problematic fathers. While Rand Paul has the advantage of inheriting his father Ron’s existing fan base and supporters for his presidential run, as I wrote earlier this year, the elder Paul also presents an ongoing liability for a politician who aspires to be more than the leader of an outlier faction of libertarian extremists.

But if, as I noted, Ron Paul could be his son’s Jeremiah Wright, that is even more the case with Cruz and his father, Pastor Rafael Cruz. While Rand and Ron Paul have had separate political lives in the last several years as the Kentucky senator struck out on his own and sought a slightly different image than his more extreme father, Ted and Rafael Cruz are pretty much joined at the hip. Pastor Cruz has been a frequent surrogate for his son and is popular in his own right as a sought-after speaker on the evangelical circuit. But the senator is now faced with the problem of having to delicately disassociate himself from his father’s recorded remarks in which he says he’d like to send President Obama “back to Kenya.”

As I wrote earlier today, racism is the third rail of American politics and liberals are always lying in wait seeking to brand conservatives as bigots. Most of the time this is a process that says more about liberal media bias than about the shortcomings of the right. But there is no denying that the elder Cruz’s crack about Kenya smacks of prejudice, not to mention a pander in the direction of irrational birther conspiracy theories. There ought to be no room in mainstream politics for this kind of thing and anyone who doesn’t push back strongly against it—and the left-wing equivalents—will deserve the flack that comes their way.

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Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have a lot in common. Both senators have engaged in symbolic filibusters this year against Obama administration policies and have led the charge against ObamaCare and the so-called Republican establishment. And both would also like to be president, something that could, if they run, place them in a fierce competition for Tea Party primary voters in 2016. But they also have something else in common: problematic fathers. While Rand Paul has the advantage of inheriting his father Ron’s existing fan base and supporters for his presidential run, as I wrote earlier this year, the elder Paul also presents an ongoing liability for a politician who aspires to be more than the leader of an outlier faction of libertarian extremists.

But if, as I noted, Ron Paul could be his son’s Jeremiah Wright, that is even more the case with Cruz and his father, Pastor Rafael Cruz. While Rand and Ron Paul have had separate political lives in the last several years as the Kentucky senator struck out on his own and sought a slightly different image than his more extreme father, Ted and Rafael Cruz are pretty much joined at the hip. Pastor Cruz has been a frequent surrogate for his son and is popular in his own right as a sought-after speaker on the evangelical circuit. But the senator is now faced with the problem of having to delicately disassociate himself from his father’s recorded remarks in which he says he’d like to send President Obama “back to Kenya.”

As I wrote earlier today, racism is the third rail of American politics and liberals are always lying in wait seeking to brand conservatives as bigots. Most of the time this is a process that says more about liberal media bias than about the shortcomings of the right. But there is no denying that the elder Cruz’s crack about Kenya smacks of prejudice, not to mention a pander in the direction of irrational birther conspiracy theories. There ought to be no room in mainstream politics for this kind of thing and anyone who doesn’t push back strongly against it—and the left-wing equivalents—will deserve the flack that comes their way.

As was the case with Paul, who dodged questions about recent intolerant statements by his father who left Congress this year, Cruz is saying his father’s remark was taken out of context and that he’s his own man anyway. Everybody has embarrassing relatives, but when you’re talking about a mentor rather than a black sheep like Billy Carter, it’s not easy to put the problem to rest.

Many of Paul’s supporters objected when I compared Ron Paul to President Obama’s erstwhile pastor and mentor Jeremiah Wright. No doubt Cruz’s supporters feel the same way. But the truth is Ron Paul and Rafael Cruz are both a bigger problem for their sons than Wright ever was for Obama. It’s true that Obama had the advantage of a liberal media that largely ignored the issue in a manner that Paul and Cruz can’t expect. But he still had it easier in another respect. A radical America-hating minister who married you and whose sermons you listened for 20 years is bad enough. But a father who was your political guide and often your surrogate is much worse. Especially when you consider that it won’t be as easy or as comfortable making them go away or be quiet as it was for Obama to silence Wright.

Of course, in some parts of the GOP base, Cruz’s remarks won’t be a problem. But that won’t help either man be nominated, let alone elected president.

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Rand Paul’s Growing Burden: Dear Old Dad

Last month I noted that Senator Rand Paul’s rapid ascent to the status of a probable first-tier presidential candidate in 2016 had one real obstacle: the man who inspired his career. Ron Paul may have retired from active politics and passed on the family’s presidential campaign franchise to Rand, but he is far from silent and that’s going to be a continuing problem for the Kentucky senator. The latest instance of paternal foot-in-mouth disease came yesterday as the nation paused to commemorate the 9/11 attacks. Here’s what Ron Paul posted about that on his Facebook page:

We’re supposed to believe that the perpetrators of 9/11 hated us for our freedom and goodness. In fact, that crime was blowback for decades of US intervention in the Middle East. And the last thing we needed was the government’s response: more wars, a stepped-up police and surveillance state, and drones.

This is familiar stuff for those who have followed the elder Paul’s bizarre rants on foreign policy which bear a closer resemblance to the positions of the far left than to the isolationism of some on the right, let alone mainstream conservatism. But every time Ron pipes up in this obnoxious manner, it’s going to cause a distraction for his son who must answer questions about whether he disassociates himself from such awful stuff. As Politico notes, when queried about this today, Rand’s response was more in the style of traditional Washington insiders than the straight-talking image he has cultivated:

“What I would say is that, you know there are a variety of reasons and when someone attacks you it’s not so much important what they say their reasons are,” Paul said. “The most important thing is that we defend ourselves from attack. And whether or not some are motivated by our presence overseas, I think some are also motivated whether we’re there or not. So I think there’s a combination of reasons why we’re attacked.”

This shows that after nearly three years in the Senate, Paul can doubletalk like a veteran. But if he thinks he can just shrug off his father’s extremism while attempting to chart a path to the sort of mainstream acceptance that it would take for him to win the 2016 GOP nomination, he’s dreaming. Sooner or later, he’s going to have to place more distance between himself and his father, if he’s serious about being more than a factional candidate.

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Last month I noted that Senator Rand Paul’s rapid ascent to the status of a probable first-tier presidential candidate in 2016 had one real obstacle: the man who inspired his career. Ron Paul may have retired from active politics and passed on the family’s presidential campaign franchise to Rand, but he is far from silent and that’s going to be a continuing problem for the Kentucky senator. The latest instance of paternal foot-in-mouth disease came yesterday as the nation paused to commemorate the 9/11 attacks. Here’s what Ron Paul posted about that on his Facebook page:

We’re supposed to believe that the perpetrators of 9/11 hated us for our freedom and goodness. In fact, that crime was blowback for decades of US intervention in the Middle East. And the last thing we needed was the government’s response: more wars, a stepped-up police and surveillance state, and drones.

This is familiar stuff for those who have followed the elder Paul’s bizarre rants on foreign policy which bear a closer resemblance to the positions of the far left than to the isolationism of some on the right, let alone mainstream conservatism. But every time Ron pipes up in this obnoxious manner, it’s going to cause a distraction for his son who must answer questions about whether he disassociates himself from such awful stuff. As Politico notes, when queried about this today, Rand’s response was more in the style of traditional Washington insiders than the straight-talking image he has cultivated:

“What I would say is that, you know there are a variety of reasons and when someone attacks you it’s not so much important what they say their reasons are,” Paul said. “The most important thing is that we defend ourselves from attack. And whether or not some are motivated by our presence overseas, I think some are also motivated whether we’re there or not. So I think there’s a combination of reasons why we’re attacked.”

This shows that after nearly three years in the Senate, Paul can doubletalk like a veteran. But if he thinks he can just shrug off his father’s extremism while attempting to chart a path to the sort of mainstream acceptance that it would take for him to win the 2016 GOP nomination, he’s dreaming. Sooner or later, he’s going to have to place more distance between himself and his father, if he’s serious about being more than a factional candidate.

Last month, I compared Rand’s situation to that of Barack Obama’s problem with his longtime pastor and mentor Rev. Jeremiah Wright. That brought a ferocious response from some Paulbots who bristle at any comparison between the America-hating Wright and the longtime libertarian standard-bearer. But, in fact, the comparison of the pair’s radical views on foreign policy is quite apt.

Isolationism is a growing trend within the GOP as some Tea Party groups like FreedomWorks have now shifted their attention from tax and spending issues to opposition to intervention in Syria. But there is a big difference between the impulse to stay out of foreign entanglements and Paul’s view that America had it coming on 9/11. A generation ago, Republicans cheered when Jeanne Kirkpatrick lambasted Democrats for being the party of those that “blame America first” in every controversy. Though the GOP has changed since then, patriotism and revulsion against Islamist terrorists who do hate American freedom has not gone out of style among Republicans.

It is almost impossible to imagine Ron Paul ever shutting up, as Wright did once his congregant began running for president. Nor will the press give Paul the same sort of pass for this association that the liberal mainstream media gave Obama about Wright. Nor should it. But even Obama realized that he had to start distancing himself from Wright’s positions and did so, albeit in such an artful way that he wound up getting credit for the episode rather than having to account for sitting in the pews for 20 years and listening approvingly to hateful sermons.

The same questions apply to Rand Paul’s tacit approval for his father’s statements and associations with racist and anti-Semitic publications and groups. Ron Paul was never really damaged by these issues because he was always a marginal presidential candidate, albeit one with a dedicated and noisy following. If Rand wants to truly go mainstream, his father’s baggage is going to have to be jettisoned.

Doubletalk may suffice for now, but as we get closer to 2016, the questions will get sharper and the danger that his father’s big mouth represents to his presidential hopes will only get worse. Anyone who is serious about being president will have to make a choice about this sort of problem. Given the close ties between father and son, this won’t be easy for Rand. But if he really wants to be the GOP nominee, he’s going to have to be more forthright about what he thinks about his father’s views.

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Ron Paul: His Son’s Jeremiah Wright

One of the most fascinating aspects of the transition from the 2012 presidential campaign to the post-November political alignment is the seamless manner in which Kentucky Senator Rand Paul assumed the leadership of the libertarian movement from his father Ron. The elder Paul was a perennial presidential candidate as well as a Texas congressman. Last year marked his last futile run for the White House and he also decided not to run for reelection, formally ending his political career and informally passing the torch to his son. While Ron was widely regarded as something of a crank because of his extreme views about the Federal Reserve and foreign policy, albeit one with an impassioned following, Rand is a very different sort of politician. Though no less committed to libertarian ideology than his father, Rand has been careful to position himself within the mainstream on most issues and that strategy has paid off handsomely for him: two and a half years into his Senate career, he has become one of the darlings of the Republican base and a probable first-tier candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

That is something his father could never have dreamed of achieving. It is far from clear that Rand can make the next leap from a factional leader to someone who could actually win the nomination and make a credible challenge for the White House. But there is no comparison between Ron’s crazy-uncle-in-the-attic image and the niche that Rand has carved out for himself in the center ring of the American political circus. The ease with which he has bridged the gap between the libertarian fringe and the Republican mainstream has been impressive. But one of the things that made it possible was Ron’s absence from the political stage. The question for Rand and his followers is whether that will continue and if the political baggage of his father’s extremism will start to handicap what must be considered a very realistic shot at winning the GOP nod in 2016.

But unfortunately for his son, the elder Paul has not retired from public life, meaning that his statements and associations are bound to raise awkward questions for his son. A prime example of this is provided by the Washington Free Beacon, which yesterday reported that Ron Paul will be a featured speaker at a conference run by a group with a record of anti-Semitism.

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One of the most fascinating aspects of the transition from the 2012 presidential campaign to the post-November political alignment is the seamless manner in which Kentucky Senator Rand Paul assumed the leadership of the libertarian movement from his father Ron. The elder Paul was a perennial presidential candidate as well as a Texas congressman. Last year marked his last futile run for the White House and he also decided not to run for reelection, formally ending his political career and informally passing the torch to his son. While Ron was widely regarded as something of a crank because of his extreme views about the Federal Reserve and foreign policy, albeit one with an impassioned following, Rand is a very different sort of politician. Though no less committed to libertarian ideology than his father, Rand has been careful to position himself within the mainstream on most issues and that strategy has paid off handsomely for him: two and a half years into his Senate career, he has become one of the darlings of the Republican base and a probable first-tier candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

That is something his father could never have dreamed of achieving. It is far from clear that Rand can make the next leap from a factional leader to someone who could actually win the nomination and make a credible challenge for the White House. But there is no comparison between Ron’s crazy-uncle-in-the-attic image and the niche that Rand has carved out for himself in the center ring of the American political circus. The ease with which he has bridged the gap between the libertarian fringe and the Republican mainstream has been impressive. But one of the things that made it possible was Ron’s absence from the political stage. The question for Rand and his followers is whether that will continue and if the political baggage of his father’s extremism will start to handicap what must be considered a very realistic shot at winning the GOP nod in 2016.

But unfortunately for his son, the elder Paul has not retired from public life, meaning that his statements and associations are bound to raise awkward questions for his son. A prime example of this is provided by the Washington Free Beacon, which yesterday reported that Ron Paul will be a featured speaker at a conference run by a group with a record of anti-Semitism.

 As the Beacon notes:

Former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul is scheduled to give a Sept. 11 keynote address at a conference sponsored by an anti-Semitic organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports.

Also slated to speak at the conference is the president of the John Birch Society, a fringe conspiracy-theorist group that was famously denounced by the late William F. Buckley. …

The Fatima Center’s publications have published columns criticizing the Pope for “kowtowing” to the “Synagogue of Satan,” argued that Jews are attempting to undermine the Catholic Church on behalf of Satan, and claiming that “Zionist billionaires” have been “financially raping” the Russian people. The organization also promotes New World Order conspiracy theories.

SPLC reports that the group’s leader, Father Nicholas Gruner, has attended Holocaust denial conferences. Gruner will speak prior to Paul at the Fatima conference, according to the posted schedule.

As the Beacon also notes, Ron Paul came under fire for publishing newsletters in the 1980s and ’90s with blatantly racist and anti-Semitic material, although he later claimed he wasn’t responsible for the content. If the denials rang false, it was because Paul has always seemed comfortable with the world of conspiracy theories that dovetailed with many of his positions on domestic and foreign issues that resonated in the fever swamps of the far right and left.

Should Rand be held accountable for his father’s views? In the abstract, the answer to that must be no. Rand Paul is entitled to live his own life and must be held responsible for what he does and says, not what his relatives do.

But Ron Paul is not the moral equivalent of the proverbial black sheep younger brother that sometimes pops up in our political history to bedevil the more responsible figures in a prominent family, such as Billy Carter. Given that Rand always supported his father’s campaigns and that his own positions are rooted in the same core beliefs as that of the elder Paul, asking where one man’s position begins and the other’s ends has always been a reasonable query. It will be even more important once Rand starts a presidential campaign that aims for something more than the occasional good showing in a caucus that Ron aimed at. At that point, he is going to have to come to terms with the fact that, like every other realistic presidential candidate, he must either endorse or disassociate himself from controversial statements and actions of those close to him.

Since entering the Senate, this is something that Rand has steadfastly refused to do. To date he has been able to keep some distance between his father’s wingnut pronouncements about the government and foreign policy (which bear a close resemblance to those embraced by the far left) while upholding his own libertarian stands. He has never condemned his father, but he has tried to make it clear that he has his own views. But once he enters the pre-2016 fray as a realistic contender that won’t be possible. Ron Paul will either have to cease and desist his extremist statements and associations or Rand will have to start giving him the same treatment Barack Obama gave Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The analogy in which a politician is asked how a longtime mentor and friend impacted his beliefs is quite apt. If Rand doesn’t back away from his father he will soon find that a media that will be out to get him (in contrast to their refusal to hold Obama accountable), as well as a suspicious Republican electorate that wants nothing to do with that sort of extremism, will sink an otherwise viable presidential run.

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Libertarians in the Limelight

Despite revelations that racist newsletters were produced in his name, as well as the media’s obvious desire to paint the Republican Party as broadly racist, Ron Paul was often the subject of fascination rather than hostility from the political press during the 2012 Republican primary season. The press was reduced to inventing stories of bigotry to tar the reputations of Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum, but seemed far less interested in the low-hanging fruit provided by Paul.

The reason for this is not because the mainstream media possessed any sympathy for Paul’s libertarian ideology; the opposite was (and remains) the case. It is because Paul was never viewed as anything more than an insurgent underdog. Paul also provided something else the media appreciated: an eccentric mascot for the libertarian wing of the GOP. And lastly, the newsletters, to those who supported President Obama, had simply surfaced at an inconvenient time. They would be much more useful to Democrats in a general election, not a competitive primary.

That’s why there was a sense of déjà vu when it was revealed that Ron Paul’s son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, had hired Jack Hunter, a neoconfederate shock jock known as the “Southern Avenger,” as an advisor. And now Jim Antle reports that after Rand Paul’s initial defense of Hunter, the latter has resigned from Paul’s office. Antle calls attention to the generational echoes of the controversy.

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Despite revelations that racist newsletters were produced in his name, as well as the media’s obvious desire to paint the Republican Party as broadly racist, Ron Paul was often the subject of fascination rather than hostility from the political press during the 2012 Republican primary season. The press was reduced to inventing stories of bigotry to tar the reputations of Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum, but seemed far less interested in the low-hanging fruit provided by Paul.

The reason for this is not because the mainstream media possessed any sympathy for Paul’s libertarian ideology; the opposite was (and remains) the case. It is because Paul was never viewed as anything more than an insurgent underdog. Paul also provided something else the media appreciated: an eccentric mascot for the libertarian wing of the GOP. And lastly, the newsletters, to those who supported President Obama, had simply surfaced at an inconvenient time. They would be much more useful to Democrats in a general election, not a competitive primary.

That’s why there was a sense of déjà vu when it was revealed that Ron Paul’s son, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, had hired Jack Hunter, a neoconfederate shock jock known as the “Southern Avenger,” as an advisor. And now Jim Antle reports that after Rand Paul’s initial defense of Hunter, the latter has resigned from Paul’s office. Antle calls attention to the generational echoes of the controversy.

As I wrote when the news broke, Hunter’s presence in Rand Paul’s office showed the limits of Paul’s efforts to separate himself from his father in the public’s mind. But even more than the questionable judgment on Paul’s part, the scandal over Hunter went mostly ignored by the national press, serving as a warning sign to Paul. He was getting the “kooky libertarian foil” treatment rather than the one he has carefully, and often skillfully, cultivated: poised presidential frontrunner.

This was Paul’s first major stumble; he flirted with exaggeration during his filibuster, but his drone-Fonda hypothetical resonated with a public growing increasingly uncomfortable with the power and reach of the federal government. Rand Paul can easily occupy the space on the debate stage vacated by his father’s exit from the political arena, but he doesn’t want to be a sideshow. He wants to be president. His credibility, therefore, especially this early in his career, is everything.

And because he wants to be president–and soon–the stakes for libertarianism are high. There has scarcely been a time when the American liberal establishment had more to fear from a credible exposition of libertarian ideology. The Democratic Party has made increasing the size of the federal leviathan the animating feature of its modern dogma. It is not a tool to improve policy; it is the goal in itself. The president’s obsession with federal power is reflected by the rank and file of his party. And the disastrous effects of this obsession are clearer every day.

The moment is ripe, then, for a counterargument that puts individual liberty back in focus. But far too many Americans don’t yet know what to think of libertarianism, and they are not helped by the political class. The American left doesn’t know what libertarianism is, but they know they don’t like it. And they are desperate to define it before it goes mainstream. The emergence of Paul Ryan on the national scene, for example, inspired many liberals to pretend they had read the works of Ayn Rand.

I wrote about President Obama’s fumbling and completely unsuccessful attempt to feign knowledge about Rand here, though it was difficult to outdo the New Republic’s inexplicable and unironic designation of “the Randian paradise that is Russia.” More recently, there was Michael Lind’s widely mocked column in which he asked “why isn’t libertarianism discredited by the absence of any libertarian regimes in the real world?” Even the Economist was aghast at the logic at play. Paul Krugman did his best to bail out Lind by publishing an attack on libertarianism just as nonsensical as Lind’s but to a wider audience.

So if the left has no idea what libertarians think, libertarians have a golden opportunity to define their philosophy and make the case for its mainstream applicability. The rise of the Tea Party and the excesses of the Obama administration have also made the broader conservative movement more receptive to limited government than it has been in decades. In COMMENTARY’s January symposium on the future of conservatism, Jonah Goldberg warned about the “fading of conservatism’s libertarian brand.” Goldberg continued:

For good and bad reasons, liberalism has managed to cover itself with a patina of libertarianism. Some of this stems from changing attitudes about sexuality. Conservative opposition to gay marriage sends a powerful cultural signal that makes the GOP seem Comstockish and scary, at least to the elites who shape the culture and to younger voters.

That argument is familiar enough. But what allows the Democrats to seem more libertarian isn’t just cultural marketing, but a widespread acceptance of the idea that positive liberty is more important than negative liberty.

Given the recent spate of columns from the organs of the left, Goldberg’s argument has renewed relevance: if the Democrats don’t even want to pretend to be libertarians, then the label is up for grabs at a time when the libertarian approach to policy has so much to offer the cause of American liberty.

Rand Paul may not have asked for the responsibility of more fully integrating libertarianism within the conservative mainstream, but in many ways that’s the predicament he finds himself in at the moment. Which means he has both far more to gain and far more to lose than his father did in 2012. And so do the party and the nation he hopes to lead.

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Rand Paul, the “Southern Avenger,” and the End of the Benefit of the Doubt

Rand Paul’s political career got off to a rough start. Almost immediately after winning the GOP Senate primary in 2010, and thus becoming the odds-on favorite to win the general election to be Kentucky’s junior senator, he was asked by Rachel Maddow a question he had been asked many times before about the Civil Rights Act. Maddow asked him the question because he has always given a long and winding response to it–something that would crater on a political talk show designed for sound bites regardless of the topic but was particularly egregious given the subject.

Paul’s answer left unforgivably unclear whether he would actually have supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act, leading to days of press speculation and inquiries as to where the senator-to-be stood on the landmark piece of civil rights legislation. (He began future answers by stating clearly he would have voted for it.) But this was more than just a case of a rookie politico mishandling a sensitive question from a hostile host; it went to the very heart of whether libertarians could shed an image that is in many cases unfair and exaggerated but continues to put a ceiling of popular support over their heads.

And that image owes much not to libertarians’ political rivals but to their own political figures, like former Congressman Ron Paul, in whose name a racist newsletter was published and whose followers spewed baldly anti-Semitic chants at American politicians. (The politicians in question weren’t Jewish, but no one ever accused the snarling bigots of adhering to logic and reasoning.) Ron Paul, who proclaimed America to blame for the terrorism perpetrated on its soil and elsewhere, is also Rand Paul’s father.

It may be unfair to brand the son with the sins of the father. But as our former COMMENTARY colleague Alana Goodman reveals over at the Free Beacon, the son is undermining any argument in favor of giving him the benefit of the doubt:

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Rand Paul’s political career got off to a rough start. Almost immediately after winning the GOP Senate primary in 2010, and thus becoming the odds-on favorite to win the general election to be Kentucky’s junior senator, he was asked by Rachel Maddow a question he had been asked many times before about the Civil Rights Act. Maddow asked him the question because he has always given a long and winding response to it–something that would crater on a political talk show designed for sound bites regardless of the topic but was particularly egregious given the subject.

Paul’s answer left unforgivably unclear whether he would actually have supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act, leading to days of press speculation and inquiries as to where the senator-to-be stood on the landmark piece of civil rights legislation. (He began future answers by stating clearly he would have voted for it.) But this was more than just a case of a rookie politico mishandling a sensitive question from a hostile host; it went to the very heart of whether libertarians could shed an image that is in many cases unfair and exaggerated but continues to put a ceiling of popular support over their heads.

And that image owes much not to libertarians’ political rivals but to their own political figures, like former Congressman Ron Paul, in whose name a racist newsletter was published and whose followers spewed baldly anti-Semitic chants at American politicians. (The politicians in question weren’t Jewish, but no one ever accused the snarling bigots of adhering to logic and reasoning.) Ron Paul, who proclaimed America to blame for the terrorism perpetrated on its soil and elsewhere, is also Rand Paul’s father.

It may be unfair to brand the son with the sins of the father. But as our former COMMENTARY colleague Alana Goodman reveals over at the Free Beacon, the son is undermining any argument in favor of giving him the benefit of the doubt:

A close aide to Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) who co-wrote the senator’s 2011 book spent years working as a pro-secessionist radio pundit and neo-Confederate activist, raising questions about whether Paul will be able to transcend the same fringe-figure associations that dogged his father’s political career.

Paul hired Jack Hunter, 39, to help write his book The Tea Party Goes to Washington during his 2010 Senate run. Hunter joined Paul’s office as his social media director in August 2012.

From 1999 to 2012, Hunter was a South Carolina radio shock jock known as the “Southern Avenger.” He has weighed in on issues such as racial pride and Hispanic immigration, and stated his support for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

During public appearances, Hunter often wore a mask on which was printed a Confederate flag.

Prior to his radio career, while in his 20s, Hunter was a chairman in the League of the South, which “advocates the secession and subsequent independence of the Southern States from this forced union and the formation of a Southern republic.”

There is much more at the link, including comments from Hunter himself in an interview with the Beacon.

During the George W. Bush years, one surefire way to tell someone had a conspiratorial view of foreign policy was if they would whine wild-eyed about the Jewish “neocons” who supposedly steered American foreign policy according to Israel’s wishes. The far left and Ron Paul’s followers on the right were particularly obsessed with this idea, and they retained this psychosis long after Bush left office. The inane among them still talk this way, and apparently that category includes Hunter–the man who speaks for Rand Paul’s social media apparatus:

randpaultweet

It should go without saying that this is a silly way for a United States senator to talk, not least because Americans would like to believe their representatives are above this sort of thing. But I suppose it’s nice to know at least that the voice behind this asininity is Hunter’s, not Paul’s. But if the best thing you can say about Paul in this regard is that he hired a dim neoconfederate clown to speak for him, that doesn’t reflect all too well on Paul, does it?

Rand Paul seems to surround himself with the same sort of people you had the unfortunate experience of encountering around Ron Paul. And according to Goodman’s article on Hunter, Rand Paul’s staff are under the impression that Rand agrees with Ron on policy, but is just willing to “play the game” (i.e. mislead the public) better than Paul the elder. Perhaps that means it’s time for Rand Paul to make perfectly clear where he stands on all these issues, rather than issuing vague pronouncements and letting the public guess.

Rand Paul is widely respected even by those with whom he often disagrees as being a straight-talking man of principle. But his close advisor and sometime spokesman suggests Rand is really just a less honest version of Ron. If Rand thinks he’s worthy not just of a Senate seat but of the Oval Office, he’s going to have to do a hell of a lot better than that.

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New GOP Stars Rekindle an Old Conservative Debate

Though Rand Paul didn’t set any records in his 13-hour filibuster, there was at least one era-defining moment. It may sound silly, but when fellow GOP Senator Ted Cruz helped sustain the filibuster by reading tweets about the filibuster that used the hashtag inspired by that very filibuster, he marked an interesting notch on America’s political timeline. It was also, as Tim Groseclose pointed out at Ricochet, an interesting “reverse” homage to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Beyond the social media aspect of it, there was also the relative youth of the senators taking part in the filibuster who went a long way yesterday to solidifying the generational shift currently underway in the GOP. This is not your father’s Republican Party was the very clear message (and not only because Marco Rubio quoted his favorite rap artists at one point). We have been, as have many in the world of political journalism, writing about the 2016 presidential race even as we add the caveat that it is early and things can (and probably will) change. But the basic assumptions outlining those articles have always included Rand Paul and Marco Rubio as two anchors of the opposing sides in the foreign policy debates that would unfold if both men choose to vie for the next Republican presidential nomination. As Rubio showed yesterday by supporting Paul’s filibuster, there will be some overlap in the political positions of the two senators. Paul is not his father; nonetheless, he and Rubio do seem to fundamentally disagree on America’s role in the world.

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Though Rand Paul didn’t set any records in his 13-hour filibuster, there was at least one era-defining moment. It may sound silly, but when fellow GOP Senator Ted Cruz helped sustain the filibuster by reading tweets about the filibuster that used the hashtag inspired by that very filibuster, he marked an interesting notch on America’s political timeline. It was also, as Tim Groseclose pointed out at Ricochet, an interesting “reverse” homage to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Beyond the social media aspect of it, there was also the relative youth of the senators taking part in the filibuster who went a long way yesterday to solidifying the generational shift currently underway in the GOP. This is not your father’s Republican Party was the very clear message (and not only because Marco Rubio quoted his favorite rap artists at one point). We have been, as have many in the world of political journalism, writing about the 2016 presidential race even as we add the caveat that it is early and things can (and probably will) change. But the basic assumptions outlining those articles have always included Rand Paul and Marco Rubio as two anchors of the opposing sides in the foreign policy debates that would unfold if both men choose to vie for the next Republican presidential nomination. As Rubio showed yesterday by supporting Paul’s filibuster, there will be some overlap in the political positions of the two senators. Paul is not his father; nonetheless, he and Rubio do seem to fundamentally disagree on America’s role in the world.

But the fact that Paul is not his father is very important to the debate. As Paul demonstrated yesterday, he is well informed on foreign affairs and he is not afraid to speak his mind. And while his father, Ron Paul, could easily be dismissed as out of the mainstream, a crank, and even a conspiracy theorist, Rand Paul cannot be so dismissed. And that means the foreign policy debate is no longer conservative vs. not conservative; it is going to be a robust debate within the conservative movement between two traditional spheres of thought.

The idea that America plays an indispensable role in the world with an active foreign policy and unabashed effort to support freedom and fair play, and is willing to sacrifice on behalf of our allies, is a conservative idea. Protecting the free market at home has long required the protection of the global free market, and defending American democracy has long required a willingness to recognize and fend off threats to our way of life from a full range of sources. As Irving Kristol wrote in 1976, “In foreign policy, neoconservatism believes that American democracy is not likely to survive for long in a world that is overwhelmingly hostile to American values, if only because our transactions (economic and diplomatic) with other nations are bound eventually to have a profound impact on our own domestic economic and political system.”

It’s also partly what was behind the famous “Lafayette, we are here!” declaration when General Pershing’s troops first arrived in France in the First World War. We recognize that our freedom came with the help of allies to our cause, and we can be counted on to remember that when the chips are down for our friends and allies.

It was easy for those of us who disagree with Paul’s outlook on executive authority in wartime, America’s muscular foreign policy, and the general prosecution of the war on terror to defend our position against the elder Paul; not so with Paul the younger. When you drop the conspiracy theories, the tendency to blame America first, and the military isolationism, what’s left is an outlook with roots in the American conservative tradition as well. After World War II, when America decided it was necessary to construct the modern national security state, it did so amidst a debate on the right. Those who supported the new national security apparatus argued that the free world, especially the U.S., invited threats and challenges by drawing down after each war and retrenching from the world stage. We could be taken by surprise and caught unprepared.

That may be so, responded those more skeptical of increased federal power, but this is the same argument that led to the New Deal. We were told the federal government must have far-reaching powers in place before a crisis actually occurs. Yet a bureaucracy that owes its existence to a certain mission will always seek out elements of that mission even when they are illusory. Thus, the federal government has been encroaching on American economic freedom ever since the New Deal because the bureaucracy it created must justify its continued existence by feeding on perceived threats to American economic stability. Isn’t that, they asked, in effect what is being argued here in favor of creating broad wartime powers that will extend into peacetime and may seek out threats where they don’t actually exist?

That is the question at the essence of Rand Paul’s foreign policy worldview. And it must be answered effectively by a new generation of conservative voices who have the attention of the grassroots and the base where older members of the party do not. Paul’s perspective would leave America less able to protect itself at home and abroad. But he can argue that position eloquently for 13 consecutive hours with the conservative movement cheering him on. Paul’s question may have been directed at the president and the attorney general, but it also likely drew the battle lines in the ensuing competition to lead the GOP.

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Rand Looking for Cheap Pro-Israel Dates

Back in November, I wrote that Rand Paul’s presidential hopes would be a difficult sale to pro-Israel conservatives and Republicans. Paul’s opposition to U.S. aid to Israel and an isolationist mindset that was highly reminiscent of the views of his extremist father, the former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, would seem to make his potential ascent in the GOP a troubling development for Jewish Republicans. While the exchange between us on the question of his attitude toward Israel may not have changed many minds, his recent trip to Israel is a clear indication that the Kentucky senator is serious about running for president.

Paul’s visit to the Jewish state was part of an effort to reposition himself as a friend of Israel, and there are some pro-Israel voices that seem inclined to take him at his word. There’s a lot to like about his criticism of President Obama’s attempts to dictate security policy to the Netanyahu government as well as the fact that he seems to be moving in the right direction on ties between the two countries. Yet it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that anyone inclined to buy into the idea that he should be thought of as a reliable friend of Israel is acting like a very cheap date for the presidential wannabe. Rand Paul may not exactly be a chip off the old block when it comes to the expressions of hostility and willingness to demonize Israel. But his positions on aid and, even more importantly, on broader foreign policy concepts are still far away from anything that the pro-Israel community would recognize as acceptable.

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Back in November, I wrote that Rand Paul’s presidential hopes would be a difficult sale to pro-Israel conservatives and Republicans. Paul’s opposition to U.S. aid to Israel and an isolationist mindset that was highly reminiscent of the views of his extremist father, the former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, would seem to make his potential ascent in the GOP a troubling development for Jewish Republicans. While the exchange between us on the question of his attitude toward Israel may not have changed many minds, his recent trip to Israel is a clear indication that the Kentucky senator is serious about running for president.

Paul’s visit to the Jewish state was part of an effort to reposition himself as a friend of Israel, and there are some pro-Israel voices that seem inclined to take him at his word. There’s a lot to like about his criticism of President Obama’s attempts to dictate security policy to the Netanyahu government as well as the fact that he seems to be moving in the right direction on ties between the two countries. Yet it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that anyone inclined to buy into the idea that he should be thought of as a reliable friend of Israel is acting like a very cheap date for the presidential wannabe. Rand Paul may not exactly be a chip off the old block when it comes to the expressions of hostility and willingness to demonize Israel. But his positions on aid and, even more importantly, on broader foreign policy concepts are still far away from anything that the pro-Israel community would recognize as acceptable.

As the Jerusalem Post reported last weekend, Paul criticized President Obama’s statements about the building of new Jewish homes in Jerusalem. Saying Israel’s policy was “none of our business,” the senator also made it clear that “I came here to show that I am supportive of the relationship between Israel and America.” As Seth Lipsky wrote in the New York Post on Sunday, Paul’s stand is noteworthy:

There hasn’t been such a supportive comment on Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and in Jerusalem since Sarah Palin last spoke on the subject. Her comments drove the left up the wall.

Lipsky is right and that’s very much to Paul’s credit. But it should also be understood that his “let the Israelis decide things for themselves” stand comes in the context of a longstanding position that treats everything that happens in the Middle East as being none of America’s business. So while his expressions of friendship are welcome and far more acceptable than the sort of stuff we had come to expect from his father, it’s difficult to argue that a person who has never believed the U.S. has vital interests in the region is the sort who can be relied upon to have Israel’s back in a crisis.

Paul also seeks, as he did in our exchange, to spin his position opposing aid to Israel as not synonymous with hostility. It is true that, as he argues, Prime Minister Netanyahu told Congress back in 1996 that he wanted to phase out U.S. aid. But Netanyahu was referring to economic assistance, not military aid. In fact, Netanyahu’s goal of eliminating economic aid has already been accomplished. For years, Israel has only gotten military aid. But Paul still wants to cut it–although he now says he wants to do it gradually and that countries that burn our flag rather than friends like Israel should get the axe first.

Israel is better off without having its economy subsidized by foreign friends, but in a region where oil money helps fuel an arms race with the nation’s foes, American assistance is vital. Paul told the Washington Post that he admires the Iron Dome anti-missile system that helped save Israeli lives during the recent fighting with Hamas and would even like to see the U.S. develop its own version. But does he think Iron Dome would have been built without extensive U.S. support from both the Bush and Obama administrations? Israel’s ability to act independently in its own interests would be enhanced if it didn’t have to rely to some degree on its one true ally. But the fact remains that American military aid remains necessary to ensure the country’s security. If you don’t get that, then you don’t get the alliance.

It is possible to argue that what we are witnessing with Rand Paul is similar to the process whereby a once-hostile figure like the late Jesse Helms eventually became a devoted friend to Israel in the latter half of his senatorial career. If so, then it may be that Paul will become a bridge between the pro-Israel community and libertarians and will help the latter understand that backing the Jewish state is a natural fit for those who believe in the cause of liberty. If his position continues to evolve, it may actually be possible for him to run in 2016 as an ardent backer of Israel even though some will always see him as his extremist father’s son.

But it is just as possible that Rand Paul’s odyssey to Israel and outreach effort to pro-Israel conservatives is analogous to Barack Obama’s path in the years before he was elected president. Obama had few ties with pro-Israel groups, and was known as the friend of pro-Palestinian activists and other radicals. But with the help of some in the Jewish community, he worked hard to change his image. He, too, said it was all a misunderstanding to see him as anything but a friend to Israel, albeit one that didn’t like the views of the Likud. Those who vouched for his pro-Israel bona fides have had a lot of explaining to do during his presidency.

Those who are allowing themselves to play that same role for Rand Paul need to think long and hard not just about being cheap dates but about the likelihood that the candidate whose positions they are rationalizing may have a very different agenda if he ever got into the White House.

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Rand Paul Can’t Fool Pro-Israel Christians

Last week we noted that if Rand Paul wanted to be a serious presidential contender as opposed to a libertarian gadfly he was going to have to distance himself from his father’s extreme anti-Israel views. No one should be holding their breath waiting for the Kentucky senator to speak a word against Ron Paul, but there’s no question he is preparing to cast himself as a different kind of candidate in 2016. To that end, not only did he take the trouble to engage in an exchange with COMMENTARY about his views on Israel, but as Business Insider reported last week, he is also planning a trip to the Jewish state next month.

Trips to Israel by senators and members of Congress are so common that they are hardly newsworthy. But for a devoted opponent of military aid to the Jewish state to be journeying there for the first time is a clear sign that Rand Paul wants to be seen as someone whose views on foreign policy are not the sort of grab bag of libertarian cant and isolationism that characterizes his father’s stance. Even more telling is that Paul will be accompanied on his trip by a group of evangelical leaders. The signal being given here is that the senator wants to be seen by the Republican base as a mainstream conservative and not a libertarian outlier.

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Last week we noted that if Rand Paul wanted to be a serious presidential contender as opposed to a libertarian gadfly he was going to have to distance himself from his father’s extreme anti-Israel views. No one should be holding their breath waiting for the Kentucky senator to speak a word against Ron Paul, but there’s no question he is preparing to cast himself as a different kind of candidate in 2016. To that end, not only did he take the trouble to engage in an exchange with COMMENTARY about his views on Israel, but as Business Insider reported last week, he is also planning a trip to the Jewish state next month.

Trips to Israel by senators and members of Congress are so common that they are hardly newsworthy. But for a devoted opponent of military aid to the Jewish state to be journeying there for the first time is a clear sign that Rand Paul wants to be seen as someone whose views on foreign policy are not the sort of grab bag of libertarian cant and isolationism that characterizes his father’s stance. Even more telling is that Paul will be accompanied on his trip by a group of evangelical leaders. The signal being given here is that the senator wants to be seen by the Republican base as a mainstream conservative and not a libertarian outlier.

Given his opposition to military assistance and his worldview that calls for a weaker U.S. presence in the world, that won’t be easy. But the trip to Israel and Jordan is a start. But the outreach here isn’t to AIPAC and its donors, who rightly regard the younger Paul as just a more presentable version of a father who remains an implacable foe of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Ron Paul was able to build up a passionate following of libertarians who applauded his rants about the Federal Reserve as well as his isolationist tirades that sounded at times as if they were lifted from the left’s playbook. But he was never able to break through to conservative Christians. His son understands that he will also fail with that demographic and have little chance to win the GOP nomination if they view him as a clone of his father. Christian conservatives view support of Israel as even more of a litmus test than most Jews, so it is incumbent on Rand Paul to either moderate his views or to present them in such a way as to avoid being classified as an opponent of Zion.

However, Christian supporters of Israel won’t be so easily fooled as liberal Jewish supporters of the Jewish state.

Barack Obama was able to pass inspection by liberals by mouthing some platitudes (some of which he quickly retracted) and making an election-year campaign trip to Israel in 2008. So long as he was reliably liberal on other issues, few would look closely at his questionable associations and views on the subject.

But pro-Israel evangelicals are made of sterner stuff than that. Though he is being accompanied by a delegation of pastors and will, no doubt, make the usual stops in Jerusalem and perhaps even be schlepped to southern Israel to inspect the damage done by Hamas missiles, they will judge him on his record, not mere symbolism. Unless he truly changes his views on the subject, he is not likely to make much headway in a community that will judge him harshly for being a false friend to Israel.

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More Questions About the Pauls and Israel

Last week, Senator Rand Paul went to some lengths to try and convince readers of COMMENTARY that the qualms that I expressed about his record on Israel were unfounded. Suffice it to say that I think despite his expressions of friendship to the Jewish state, most Republicans, as well as most Americans, are going to have a hard time reconciling his opposition to military aid to Israel as well as support for defense cuts and a reduced role for America around the world with the idea that he supports the alliance. But if the senator is serious about convincing his party that he can be relied upon to have Israel’s back, he has a much bigger problem than anything I have to say about the issue: his father, Rep. Ron Paul.

Though Senator Paul has tried to carve out a different, more establishment-friendly niche for himself in Washington than his gadfly father, his support for the latter’s presidential runs and clear admiration for the man’s principles and positions are a matter of record. And in case anyone forgot about the erstwhile presidential challenger’s stands on Israel, he gave us a reminder today with a blog post on his official congressional website. Titled, “How to End the Tragedy in Gaza,” Rep. Paul does not blame Hamas for starting the latest fighting. Instead, he blames Israel and, more to the point, American backing for Israel, for enabling the conflict. Though his son has not said anything like that in recent years, this is the sort of false and destructive rhetoric that is catnip to many of the extremist libertarians who form the family fan base and who will, no doubt, be the foot soldiers in Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential run. While it may be unfair to expect any man to distance himself from his father, unless the senator makes a clear effort to disavow his father’s positions on the Middle East, his attempts to portray himself as a friend to Israel will flop.

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Last week, Senator Rand Paul went to some lengths to try and convince readers of COMMENTARY that the qualms that I expressed about his record on Israel were unfounded. Suffice it to say that I think despite his expressions of friendship to the Jewish state, most Republicans, as well as most Americans, are going to have a hard time reconciling his opposition to military aid to Israel as well as support for defense cuts and a reduced role for America around the world with the idea that he supports the alliance. But if the senator is serious about convincing his party that he can be relied upon to have Israel’s back, he has a much bigger problem than anything I have to say about the issue: his father, Rep. Ron Paul.

Though Senator Paul has tried to carve out a different, more establishment-friendly niche for himself in Washington than his gadfly father, his support for the latter’s presidential runs and clear admiration for the man’s principles and positions are a matter of record. And in case anyone forgot about the erstwhile presidential challenger’s stands on Israel, he gave us a reminder today with a blog post on his official congressional website. Titled, “How to End the Tragedy in Gaza,” Rep. Paul does not blame Hamas for starting the latest fighting. Instead, he blames Israel and, more to the point, American backing for Israel, for enabling the conflict. Though his son has not said anything like that in recent years, this is the sort of false and destructive rhetoric that is catnip to many of the extremist libertarians who form the family fan base and who will, no doubt, be the foot soldiers in Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential run. While it may be unfair to expect any man to distance himself from his father, unless the senator makes a clear effort to disavow his father’s positions on the Middle East, his attempts to portray himself as a friend to Israel will flop.

Ron Paul’s position on Israel has been consistent. Though he, too, occasionally tries to paint his stand as one that is friendly to the Jewish state, he does more than just oppose military aid. He believes the U.S. is at fault for being Israel’s steadfast ally. The congressman’s belief in the moral equivalence of the two sides in the conflict is clear:

US foreign policy being so one-sided actually results in more loss of life and of security on both sides. Surely Israelis do not enjoy the threat of missiles from Gaza nor do the Palestinians enjoy their Israel-imposed inhuman conditions in Gaza. But as long as Israel can count on its destructive policies being underwritten by the US taxpayer it can continue to engage in reckless behavior. And as long as the Palestinians feel the one-sided US presence lined up against them they will continue to resort to more and more deadly and desperate measures. 

One needn’t waste time pointing out that the idea of “inhuman conditions in Gaza” is a myth fostered by Israel’s enemies or that there is nothing “reckless” about a nation reacting to the firing of hundreds of missiles on its citizens and sovereign territory with a counter-attack. But the most telling point about this piece is that the libertarian leader’s ideas about moral equivalence extend beyond his hostility to Israel. They also apply to American measures of self-defense against terrorists:

Last week, as the fighting raged, President Obama raced to express US support for the Israeli side, in a statement that perfectly exemplifies the tragic-comedy of US foreign policy. The US supported the Israeli side because, he said, “No country on Earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.” Considering that this president rains down missiles on Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and numerous other countries on a daily basis, the statement was so hypocritical that it didn’t pass the laugh test. But it wasn’t funny.

This goes to the heart not only of Ron Paul’s hostility to the exercise of American power but also to that of his son. Plenty of so-called foreign policy “realists” share their prejudice against Israel and willingness to buy into Arab propaganda about the Middle East conflict. But both the Pauls have a problem with American efforts to combat al-Qaeda, or to restrain rogue Islamist regimes like the one in Iran. That puts them clearly outside the mainstream of the Republican Party and renders Rand Paul’s presidential hopes and growing influence a threat to any hopes of the GOP recapturing the White House in the future.

Rand Paul’s comments don’t usually come across as parodies of far-left rants the way his father’s usually do. But he has made it clear that he shares the elder politician’s core beliefs about American foreign policy. So long as the senator fails to clearly oppose his father’s ideas about the Middle East and the role of the U.S. in the world, friends of Israel won’t believe what he says about Israel. Nor should they.

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Rand Paul and Israel: An Exchange

Last week, I wrote about the potential impact that the growing influence of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will have on the ability of Republicans to portray themselves as a solidly pro-Israel party. Senator Paul has written to respond to that piece. My response follows.

Jonathan S. Tobin’s Nov. 9 column, “Will Rand Paul Hijack the Pro-Israel GOP?” makes some wildly speculative assumptions about me, my positions concerning our ally, Israel, and the Republican Party’s future. Since Mr. Tobin took it upon himself to image some of my positions, I thought it best to set the record straight by stating what they actually are.

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Last week, I wrote about the potential impact that the growing influence of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will have on the ability of Republicans to portray themselves as a solidly pro-Israel party. Senator Paul has written to respond to that piece. My response follows.

Jonathan S. Tobin’s Nov. 9 column, “Will Rand Paul Hijack the Pro-Israel GOP?” makes some wildly speculative assumptions about me, my positions concerning our ally, Israel, and the Republican Party’s future. Since Mr. Tobin took it upon himself to image some of my positions, I thought it best to set the record straight by stating what they actually are.

Israel is a strong and important ally of the United States, and we share many mutual security interests. I believe we should stand by our ally, but where I think sometimes American commentators get confused is that I do not think Israel should be dictated to by the United States. I think that has happened too often, and it has been to the detriment of Israel. Too often we have coerced Israel into trading land for peace, or other false bargains. When President Obama stood before the world in 2011 to demand that Israel act against her own strategic interest, I denounced this as unnecessary meddling. As I wrote in May of that year: “For President Obama to stand up today and insist that Israel should once again give up land, security and sovereignty for the possibility of peace shows an arrogance that is unmatched even in our rich history of foreign policy.”

Israel will always know what’s best for Israel. The United States should always stand with its friends. But we should also know, unlike President Obama, when to stay out of the way.

Foreign aid is another example of how our meddling often hurts more than its helps. In my proposals to end or cut back on foreign aid, some have made accusations that my proposals would hurt Israel. Actually, not following my proposals hurt Israel. We currently give about $4 billion annually to Israel in foreign aid. But we give about $6 billion to the nations that surround Israel, many of them antagonistic toward the Jewish state.

Giving twice as much foreign aid to Israel’s enemies simply does not make sense. Our aid to Israel has always been to a country that has been an unequivocal ally. Our aid to its neighbors has purchased their temporary loyalty at best.

These countries are not our true allies and no amount of money will make them so. They are not allies of Israel and I fear one day our money and military arms that we have paid for will be used against Israel.

Mr. Tobin speculates that calls by me and others within the Republican Party for Pentagon cuts somehow would hurt our national defense. It is always sad to see conservatives making liberal arguments. Cutting waste in our military would no more hurt our defense than getting rid of No Child Left Behind would hurt education. Every government agency can withstand a little belt-tightening, especially if we scale back on our overseas presence and focus more on true defense and security.

I voted against the original sequester agreement last year. It amused me to watch many of my colleagues who vote for it now wringing their hands over what they’ve wrought. The problem is, if we don’t keep these cuts, where will they come from? My colleagues have shown no greater stomach for domestic cuts than military ones. And with a now $16 trillion national debt and annual deficits between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, the supposed grown-ups in Washington need to man-up and figure out where to cut. An automatic cut that would disproportionately target military spending was no one’s first choice—but was also the direct result of not enough people getting specific or serious about cuts to begin with.

I am not one of those people. I proposed a fully balanced five-year budget that restored the sequester funds. That path is still open to all Senators so concerned about our defense spending.

But absent the equivalent cuts from elsewhere, I cannot support simply scrapping the sequester.

That’s because the cuts really aren’t that big of a problem, if we also include reform.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) and I are now both calling for legislation to audit the Pentagon, believing that a federal department with zero oversight is a good place to start when targeting government waste. We are not the only Republicans to make this observation and I suspect that number will continue to grow. The age of austerity will require as much common sense as possible.

Mr. Tobin is right to note that these are questions that a Republican Party serious about limited government and fiscal responsibility will continue to ask moving forward. But it is absurd to suggest that conservatives who ask these questions are somehow for a weaker defense, or worse, somehow stand on the wrong side of our friend Israel.

Portraying me as being against Israel in any fashion, as Mr. Tobin’s title implies, is as nonfactual as it is offensive. There are many differing opinions about both foreign and domestic policy within Israel. Any healthy, self-governing people necessarily must have robust debate. This is as true in Israel as it is in the United States. The notion that there is an unassailable consensus concerning Israel’s best interests, within the Republican Party, the United States, and even Israel itself, is simple not true and never has been. It assumes too much and asks too little, to the detriment of both countries.

Israel has long been, and will continue to be, one of our greatest allies. I will always fight to maintain the health and strength of this relationship, just as I will always fight for the health, security and best interests of the United States.

Senator Rand Paul, Washington, D.C.

 

Jonathan Tobin Responds:

In a world full of foes of the state of Israel, far be it from me to reject the wish of any prominent politician to be depicted as a friend of the Jewish state. It may be reasonable to suspect that this desire may have more to do with the senator’s possible presidential ambitions (indeed, the fact that he should take the trouble to defend his record on Israel in COMMENTARY can fairly be construed as a clear indication of his plans) but it is welcome nonetheless. However, his record is a little more complicated than he indicates. While the senator may not be as reflexively hostile to Israel as his father Ron or many of their extremist libertarian fans, it is difficult to reconcile his positions on assistance to Israel or his constricted ideas about the role of America in the world with one that is readily identified as supportive of a strong and secure Israel.

First, let’s give Senator Paul credit for saying that Israel ought not to be pressured into making concessions to its antagonists. Paul criticized President Obama for his ambush of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in May 2011 over the 1967 lines. But it should also be pointed out that Paul was conspicuous by his absence from Netanyahu’s address to Congress that earned bipartisan ovations.

Let’s also specify that the senator is right when he notes that at this point in time, Israel would do well to wean itself from any from of foreign assistance. That is a goal that was first articulated by Prime Minister Netanyahu in 1996 during an address to Congress. But when Netanyahu made that speech, Israel was getting as much economic aid as it was military help. That is no longer the case.

When Paul called for an end to “welfare” to Israel, he said that the country’s relative wealth ought to render it ineligible for aid. But almost all the assistance Israel gets nowadays is necessary to redress the imbalance in strength between the Jewish state and the entire Arab and Muslim world that is arrayed against it. Though Paul would accompany an end to military aid to Israel with a ban on assistance to any country that is hostile to it, that wouldn’t undo the harm that a stoppage from the country’s only military ally would cause to a nation that is forced to spend exorbitant amounts on defense in order to cope with foes supported by Iran and even Russia. Nor would it offset the encouragement that such a measure would give Israel’s enemies.

Paul’s position ignores the fact that most of the military assistance is spent right here in the United States. But his willingness to characterize the issue as one in which American kids are being asked to go into debt to pay for “rich” Israel showed his willingness to play the same isolationist cards that won his father the applause of a radical fringe.

But just as troubling are Paul’s positions on U.S. defense and foreign policy, irrespective of the warm feelings he says he harbors for Israel.

An essential part of the U.S.-Israel alliance is the assumption that the United States will maintain its military strength as well as be willing to act to defend its interests abroad. Paul’s isolationist wing of the party acts as if America can afford to more or less withdraw its forces to its own borders and ignore the rest of the world. Paul pretends that the draconian cuts he advocates will not materially affect America’s defense capabilities, but that is mere rhetoric. Just as it would be impossible for the United States to assert its influence abroad in ways that are important to making Israel safer, so, too, will a diminished U.S. military undermine the strategic balance in the region in a way that will hurt it.

It is no small thing that the putative leader of a faction of the Republican Party that is virulently isolationist should wish to be seen as a friend of Israel. But he has a long way to go before his positions can be considered particularly supportive of Israel or the sort of American foreign policy stance that is consistent with maintaining the alliance. Barring an unexpected change of heart, Senator Paul’s higher profile must be considered bad news for Jewish Republicans.

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Ron Paul’s Farewell Address

Some old stalwarts—Gary Ackerman and Howard Berman, for example—are leaving the U.S. House of Representatives, Ackerman voluntarily and Berman after an election defeat. The 112th Congress will also see the departure of some its most eccentric members: Dennis Kucinich lost a bitter primary battle, and Ron Paul is retiring. On November 14, Paul gave his farewell address, and it was vintage Paul. While I’m sympathetic to his libertarian approach on social issues, value individual liberty, and embrace the concept of a small, lean government, I also believe in the necessity of a strong military. Paul’s rambling conspiracies regarding AIPAC and his fierce isolationism have always turned me off as have, frankly, the even nuttier approaches of some of his followers.

Still, Paul’s address should be a must-read. As Alana Goodman pointed out, his son, Senator Rand Paul, is a likely presidential candidate in 2016 and wants very much to revamp the Republican Party. Paul can count on his father’s supporters, and then some, as he understands how to package himself as a mainstream candidate without any of his father’s “crazy uncle” excesses.

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Some old stalwarts—Gary Ackerman and Howard Berman, for example—are leaving the U.S. House of Representatives, Ackerman voluntarily and Berman after an election defeat. The 112th Congress will also see the departure of some its most eccentric members: Dennis Kucinich lost a bitter primary battle, and Ron Paul is retiring. On November 14, Paul gave his farewell address, and it was vintage Paul. While I’m sympathetic to his libertarian approach on social issues, value individual liberty, and embrace the concept of a small, lean government, I also believe in the necessity of a strong military. Paul’s rambling conspiracies regarding AIPAC and his fierce isolationism have always turned me off as have, frankly, the even nuttier approaches of some of his followers.

Still, Paul’s address should be a must-read. As Alana Goodman pointed out, his son, Senator Rand Paul, is a likely presidential candidate in 2016 and wants very much to revamp the Republican Party. Paul can count on his father’s supporters, and then some, as he understands how to package himself as a mainstream candidate without any of his father’s “crazy uncle” excesses.

President Obama’s re-election only delays the inevitable: economic reality is going to hit, and hit hard. Ultimately, the Republicans—and frankly the country—will have to choose between two camps: A Paul Ryan-type embrace of fiscal realism, or a Ron Paul-like melding of libertarianism, isolationism, and conspiratorial ramblings about those who do not agree that isolationism is in American national interests. Ron Paul was courteous enough to pose dozens of questions. Perhaps it is not too early to push Rand to answer them and stake out clear positions early on his father’s most conspiratorial beliefs, especially when it comes to insinuations of his opponents’ lack of patriotism and dual loyalty.

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