Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has spent the last six months or so trying to raise his profile and show he is not a fringe character. His staff and supporters insist he is not his father, but question remains whether his views and judgment are any better or whether he is simply a slicker version of the conspiracy-minded former Texas congressman.
So far the effort has gone poorly. Actually, he’s gone backward in many respects in his quest for legitimacy. Let’s count the ways:
1. He has been caught red-handed employing an aide, Jack Hunter, whose views on minorities and the Civil War, among other things, are far outside the mainstream. Worse yet, the aide attests to his similarity to his father, praising him for cloaking his views more effectively.
2. To top it off, rather than address the issue, Hunter continues in his post and Paul’s office has hunkered down. In doing so, Paul is seen as implicitly endorsing Hunter’s views or at the very least suggesting they are nothing extraordinary. His chief of staff, Doug Stafford, complained about my characterization that the office was hiding (i.e. not being forthright). He shot off an e-mail, saying, “Jack talked to author of story for an hour as she notes herself. Our office has issues multiple statements and responded to anyone who asked. How exactly is that hiding?” He then accused me of being untruthful: “I know I know. Me with my facts again.”
I reminded him that the office itself so far has put out a single unresponsive statement that it doesn’t tolerate discrimination. I then asked a series of questions (Who hired Hunter? Was his background known at the time? Was Sen. Paul aware of his statements? Now that he is, does Sen. Paul agree with the comments? If not, which does he disagree with? Will he remain employed?). Again Stafford was unresponsive, replying: “Senator Paul’s staffers work for his beliefs not the other way around. You can tell what he believes from 4 years if speeches, writings and votes.” He then cited the paleoconservative American Conservative (co-founded by Pat Buchanan!) for the proposition, I guess, that Jack Hunter isn’t all that bad. So did Paul approve of hiring this guy?
3. Paul’s big foreign policy rollout at the Heritage Foundation was a mini-disaster. His assertion that containment of a nuclear-armed Iran should be considered was widely panned and puts him to the left of the president’s rhetoric. His mangling of Ronald Reagan’s record suggested he is either unfamiliar with Reagan’s record or thinks he can twist it to support a foreign policy that is at odds with nearly every aspect of Reagan’s approach.
4. He built up expectations during his Silicon Valley outreach that he would be a positive force on immigration reform. Instead, he stuck to his usual MO — propose some wacky amendment and then vote no on the bill. It’s an act that may work with his die-hard supporters, but donors once burned won’t take him at his word in the future.
5. In condemning the NSA surveillance programs and comparing Edward Snowden to Martin Luther King Jr., Paul again exposed himself as an echo of his father, a hard-bitten libertarian clueless about how to defend America against terrorist threats. Again, he winds up far to the left of the president.
6. Rand Paul has gotten himself bollixed up on Egypt, falsely accusing “neocons,” a term my colleague Glenn Kessler notes is ill-defined and which some contend “is actually negative code for ‘Jewish,’ though not all supposed neoconservatives are Jewish.” As Glenn puts it, he “does not understand the term ‘neoconservative’ or is deliberately misusing it.” Or maybe he has no idea who is on which side in the Egypt debate.
In short, if anything, Paul has cemented his image as someone flying blind, without a firm grasp of the issues or competent staff. Worse still, his advertised moves to reassure conservatives have been so ham-handed as instead to highlight his extreme views. Frankly, the question is no longer if he’s ready for prime time, but whether he is a competent U.S. senator. On that, the jury is out. But suffice it to say that if he had voiced in the primary the views he has recently propounded, he would likely not have been the party’s Senate nominee.
UPDATE: In a follow-up Free Beacon story, Hunter claims that Rand Paul was well aware of his views when he was hired. If that’s so, this story will hang over Paul’s head indefinitely until he can explain why Hunter’s views were not disqualifying for a Senate office, especially one trying to reach out to Hispanics and African Americans.