Rand Paul ≠ Ron Paul

January 28, 2014

Rand Paul is his father's son. But, he is not his father.


Rand Paul, left, and his father Ron.

These are facts. But, as the Kentucky senator leans more and more into the 2016 presidential race, the tendency to conflate him and his father -- a.k.a. former congressman Ron Paul (R-Tex.) -- grows. It's already starting. Witness WaPo's Jennifer Rubin, who in a flaying of the Kentucky senator on Monday, writes: "In a large sense [Rand Paul] has not only the same burdens as his father did, but also many of the unsavory traits and views President Obama displays. As for his father, there is no secret he comes with intellectual baggage."

There's no doubt Ron Paul's views -- particularly on foreign policy -- will be something that Rand Paul will have to contend with in 2016. But, to assume that Ron Paul's views will cripple his son's candidacy seems a bit far-fetched -- based both on the Kentucky senator's own comments on the matter and the recent history of fathers and sons in Republican politics.

Let's start with what Rand has said about Ron's views. Pressed about the extremeness of his father's policy ideas over the weekend by "Meet the Press" moderator David Gregory, Rand Paul offered this defense:

"I think there are always perceptions of what is extreme versus what is mainstream. I've always said, you know, that spending what comes in, balancing your budget, is actually the very reasonable sort of proposal, and spending $1 trillion you don't have is an extreme proposal."

That response alone shows how different Rand and Ron actually are. We have long believed that if only Ron Paul were willing to hedge some of his foreign policy views or, at a minimum find a way to effectively pivot away from them during the Republican debates, he would have actually had a puncher's chance at winning a state or two in the primary process in 2012. But, of course, that wasn't Ron Paul. Rand, on the other hand, is far more deft about moving from a position of weakness to a position of strength without getting entirely caught up in a political thicket. (He isn't a finished product on that front, however; witness his citing and quoting French philosopher Montesquieu in that same interview with Gregory.)

Then there is the reality that some of the ideas that made Ron Paul an outlier in the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns are becoming far closer to a majority viewpoint within the GOP. As Peter Beinart writes in a terrific piece on Rand Paul in The Atlantic:

But in 2016, Rand Paul will be less of an ideological outlier than his father was in 2012. That’s partly because he has avoided some of his father’s edgier views. (He’s more supportive of foreign aid and sanctions against Iran, for instance.) And it’s partly because more Republicans now share his suspicion of the national-security state. And it’s partly because more Republicans now share his suspicion of the national-security state. Last summer, more than 40 percent of House Republicans voted to curb NSA data collection. 

Those who would insist that the ideological sins of the father will necessarily be visited upon the son would also do well to remember how badly damaged George W. Bush was in 2000 after his father, George H.W. Bush, broke his "no new taxes" pledge and subsequently lost his presidential reelection bid in 1992. Um, not at all. In fact, it's easy to argue that Bush the younger got all of the good elements of his father's political legacy without having to deal with any (or very little) of the negative.

And, it's very hard in the context of a political campaign (or life) to make a candidate apologize for things his father has said. The younger Paul, at the moment at least, is taking exactly the right tack when asked about his dad. "Don't be trashing my dad too much," Paul told Gregory. "That's my dad, you know?" There are very few people -- even those who think President Rand would be a disaster -- who would disagree with his right to defend his dad.

Make no mistake: Rand Paul will have plenty of controversial views of his own to defend in 2016 -- his past comments on the Civil Rights Act and his borrowing of language in speeches to name two big ones. But, the idea that Rand will have to answer for every policy position his father has ever held is wrong. Ron Paul won't cost his son the nomination. He might -- through the organizations he built in Iowa and New Hampshire as well as the fundraising one he constructed nationally -- help him win it.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Chris Cillizza · January 28, 2014