Food for thought: 4 columns on Rand Paul

April 15

The nascent presidential candidacy of Senator Rand Paul is apparently getting sufficient traction to strike a nerve among some Republicans (and others). Here are four columns from just yesterday and today with different takes on his candidacy, some more critical than others.

In his Bloomberg column, which does not actually mention the Senator by name, Why Bold Ideas Backfire in Politics, Ramesh Ponnuru warns libertarians and others that ambitious political programs tend to bite the presidents that attempt them.

Americans say they want politicians to tackle the big issues and get things done. In 2008, they even elected a presidential candidate who said he was interested in “fundamentally transforming the United States of America.”

Yet almost every time elected officials have tried bold problem-solving in the past 20 years, it has produced a backlash against them. The more ambitious the attempt, the worse the political repercussions have been…

But maybe in our era small ball is what people like. If so, then activists with more far-reaching agendas will have to resign themselves to advancing them in small bits. And people considering running for office should know that politics, for the foreseeable future, is probably not going to be much fun.

In is column, Rand Paul’s Foreign Policy: For the Situation Room or the Dorm Room? His foreign-policy instincts are immature, to say the leastNational Review‘s Rich Lowry is critical in a way that seems aimed at being constructive.

Rand Paul is a good-natured, thoughtful, and creative politician, and the GOP benefits from having such a high-profile figure who doesn’t look or feel like a typical Republican. But he will soon be running for an office where your view of the world matters profoundly, and his instincts sometimes seem more appropriate to a dorm-room bull session than the Situation Room.

There is no doubt that the Paulite persuasion on foreign policy has made extraordinary inroads in the Republican party. Rand’s father, Ron Paul, was a reliable punching bag on national-security issues during presidential debates in 2008. He got a more respectful hearing in 2012. Now, his son’s noninterventionism is closer to the GOP norm that would have seemed possible in, say, 2004.

But there are limits to how far Rand Paul can push it. The default position of the GOP is still toward strength, and the party will instinctively recoil from the distorted view of America implicit in some of Paul’s more impolitic statements.

Brett Stephens is harshly sarcastic in his Wall Street Journal column Rand Paul for President: Because what the GOP needs is a humbling landslide defeat.

Republicans, let’s get it over with. Fast forward to the finish line. Avoid the long and winding primary road. It can only weaken the nominee. And we know who he—yes, he—has to be.

Not Jeb Bush, who plainly is unsuited to be president. He is insufficiently hostile to Mexicans. He holds heretical views on the Common Core, which, as we well know, is the defining issue of our time. And he’s a Bush. Another installment of a political dynasty just isn’t going to fly with the American people, who want some fresh blood in their politics.

Unless the dynasty is named Clinton. Or Kennedy. Or Nunn. Or Carter. Or, come to think of it, Paul. In that case, dynasties are just fine, thank you.

Chris Christie is also unfit to be president. His aides caused a traffic jam in the service of a petty political vendetta. The New Jersey governor may not have known about it, but it doesn’t matter because the mere taint of scandal makes him unfit to be the Republican nominee, much less the president.

Unlike, say, the impeached former president. In 1999 Bill Clinton was cited for contempt of court by a federal judge. In 2001 he had his law license suspended for five years by the Arkansas Supreme Court. His post-presidential charitable work, the New York Times NYT +1.74% reported last year, is “a sprawling concern, supervised by a rotating board of old Clinton hands, vulnerable to distraction and threatened by conflicts of interest.” A “taint of scandal,” perhaps? In Bill’s case, it’s more like eau de cologne, irresistible to the ladies.

No, what we need as the Republican nominee in 2016 is a man of more glaring disqualifications. Someone so nakedly unacceptable to the overwhelming majority of sane Americans that only the GOP could think of nominating him.

This man is Rand Paul, the junior senator from a state with eight electoral votes. The man who, as of this writing, has three years worth of experience in elected office. Barack Obama had more political experience when he ran for president. That’s worked out well…

Then, from the left, there is this Richard Cohen’s Washington Post column from yesterday The GOP’s amateur hour.

…If you compare Paul to Republican presidential nominees of yesteryear, you can get an idea of just how far the GOP has sunk. Mitt Romney was the governor of Massachusetts and a very successful businessman. John McCain is a long-serving senator and war hero. George W. Bush was twice elected governor of Texas; Bob Dole had been Senate majority leader;George H.W. Bush had been just about everything; and Ronald Reagan was governor of California for two terms.

Obviously, experience does not in itself predict a successful presidency — one can hardly do worse than the younger Bush — but inexperience all but guarantees trouble. Barack Obama’s missteps in both foreign and domestic policy — the Obamacare rollout debacle and the Syrian fiasco — were undoubtedly a consequence of inexperience. Especially in foreign policy, where decisions can be made instantly and without advance congressional approval, experience matters greatly.

My doubts about Paul, while based somewhat on his bizarre positions, are really grounded in a fear of the amateur. I expressed similar reservations about Elizabeth Warren, who seemingly moments after being elected a senator from Massachusetts was being mentioned by fellow left-wing Democrats as a presidential candidate. Warren had the good sense to take herself out of contention….

Meanwhile, in response, Glenn Reynolds comments:

I think [Paul]’s a very smart and talented politician. Whether he should be the 2016 nominee is, of course, to be determined over the next couple of years. But I keep having to lecture GOP establishment folks on this point: If you criticize GOP candidates more harshly than you’re criticizing Democrats, you’re doing it wrong. There are plenty of ways to say that someone wouldn’t be the best nominee without screeching. Because screeching alienates those candidates’ supporters. And you’ll need all of them to turn out in 2016. And in 2014. This sort of thing seems like Politics 101 to me, but apparently not to everyone.

Substance aside, I think Ponnuru’s and Lowry’s tone was just fine. Not so much for Stephens, and Cohen’s column is what you would expect.

Just as Paul is reaching out to new groups that might not have voted Republican in the recent past, I think the Senator and his advisers need to find a way to credibly make the case that libertarians need not be against a strong national defense, and neither is he. Otherwise, for better or worse, he won’t secure the nomination that he appears to desire. This won’t be as difficult as some may think, as Paul is actually taking smaller politically-appealing positions, such as his opposition to NSA date collection, rather than running as an across-the-board libertarian ideologue. It is a mistake simply to attribute to him all the views of his father or of other libertarians (like myself). Indeed, just as “only Nixon can go to China,” Paul’s libertarian background allows him to take less stridently libertarian positions without alienating his base.

In the end, which Republican candidate ultimately will be the strongest candidate in the general election will become much clearer by how well each does in competition with the others in the primaries. That is not something that punditry can tell you today. The proof of that political pudding will be in the eating. In the meantime, everyone needs to keep their cool.

Randy Barnett is the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Legal Theory, Georgetown University Law Center, and Director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution. His books include: Restoring the Lost Constitution: The Presumption of Liberty (Princeton, 2d. ed 2014); and The Structure of Liberty: Justice and the Rule of Law (Oxford, 2d. ed. 2014).
SECTION: {section=national, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, moderationrequired=false, display_more=true, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, comments_period=14, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, includepause=true, display_ugc_photos=false, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, moderationrequired=false, display_more=true, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, comments_period=14, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, includepause=true, display_ugc_photos=false, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Comments
SECTION: {section=national, subsection=null}!!!
INITIAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, moderationrequired=false, display_more=true, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, comments_period=14, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, includepause=true, display_ugc_photos=false, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!!

UGC FROM ARTICLE: !!!

FINAL commentConfig: {includereply=true, canvas_permalink_id=washpost.com/8bvh5zpd9k, allow_comments=true, commentmaxlength=2000, includeshare=true, display_comments=true, canvas_permalink_app_instance=m6yzjj840m, moderationrequired=false, display_more=true, includefeaturenotification=true, defaultsort=reverseChronological, comments_period=14, canvas_allcomments_id=washpost.com/km4ey0dajm, includevoteofftopic=false, allow_videos=false, childrenitemsperpage=3, markerdisplay=post_commenter:Post Commenter|staff:Post Writer|top_commenter:Post Forum|top_local:Washingtologist|top_sports:SuperFan|fact_checker:Fact Checker|post_recommended:Post Recommended|world_watcher:World Watcher|cultuer_connoisseur:Culture Connoisseur|weather_watcher:Capital Weather Watcher|post_contributor:Post Contributor, includesorts=true, includeheader=true, defaulttab=all, includeverifiedcommenters=true, includerecommend=true, maxitemstop=2, includereport=true, source=washpost.com, allow_photos=false, maxitems=7, includepause=true, display_ugc_photos=false, canvas_allcomments_app_instance=6634zxcgfd, includepermalink=false}!!
Next Story
Eugene Volokh | April 15