Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) appeared on Fox News Sunday, showing why he is a force to be reckoned with, in 2016 and beyond:
To begin with, his reserved demeanor, less intense and less cloying than the average pol, sets him apart. This may strike some (women voters, perhaps, most of all) as cool or remote; however, we learned from President Obama than restraint and reserve have a certain appeal these days, especially with younger voters wary of the glad-handing, used-car salesmen type of politicians.
He is also rhetorically clever. In discussing drones, he insists that he’s really concerned with the use of drones on Americans at home. Who could quibble with that? It is only at the tail end when he concedes, “Where I agree with Sen. [Lindsey] Graham, if you have a grenade launcher on your shoulder, by all means, and you’re firing at Americans, you don’t need due process. But if you are sitting in a cafe in Paris or Yemen, there should be a process where a judge decides your guilt, or a jury.” And what if you are an enemy combatant sleeping in a hide-away? The issue is the president’s constitutional power to direct war operations in which Americans have taken up arms against their country. Paul seems to have a different understanding, but he puts it in terms that are alluring for a less sophisticated audience.
Nevertheless, when he says that he favors a less “aggressive” foreign policy, he will rankle many voters. Is that what our troops have been doing — waging a war of “aggression”?
When it comes to domestic policy he is exceptionally adept at debunking the president’s rhetoric:
WALLACE: All right. Let’s turn to the president’s agenda. What’s wrong with the idea the president laid out in the State of the Union that, yes, at this time particularly when we have a weak recovery, we need to spend more money? He calls it investment on education, on infrastructure, on research, especially when Mr. Obama says, if you make cuts in other places we won’t add — his words — a dime to the deficit.
PAUL: Yes, he said that about 20 times in the last four years. Meanwhile, he added $6 trillion to the debt. I think it’s really disingenuous. He said in his speech he reduced the debt by $2 trillion. Well, he added $6 trillion and that means because he didn’t add $8 trillion, he’s reduced it by $2 trillion? That’s absurd. He listed about 50 new programs and says they’re not going to cost you anything. We’re going to squeeze the money out of the rich. The problem is, is whenever he tries to squeeze more money out of the economy, he is slowing it down. We slowed down in the fourth quarter, and it’s not because government spending is going down. Government spending is still going at pace. We still have plenty of government spending. In fact, we spent more the fourth quarter last year than the third quarter and we spent more than the previous year. We’ve never had a real cut in spending in recent history. So I think he’s just — he’s flat-out wrong.
That’s effective stuff. Also effective is his appeal to seniors (“If you are a senior citizen trying to save money, when your savings is sapped and you get no cost of living increase”) Less effective is his focus on inflation (which is now nearly non-existent). On immigration, as he said, he’s moved a long way. And he also makes an appeal not to incarcerate non-violent drug users.
All of this, one can imagine, will open up the party’s appeal. Paul is also smart enough not to sound hysterical or defensive about opposition. Unlike the tea party crowd and some right wing bloggers in orbit about Karl Rove’s efforts to find electable Republicans, Paul says simply, “Well, you know, elections are a free marketplace and everybody has a right to participate in primary elections. What I would say is primary elections need not be selected by the party. In my case, and also in Sen. Rubio’s case, the party chose someone else. In Sen. Rubio’s case, they chose someone who is now a Democrat. So, it wasn’t really a very good choice. So, I would say is, let’s have healthy primaries, and if people want to contribute on all sides, let people make voluntary contributions and we’ll see which way it goes. But I think competitive primaries, you end up getting a good candidate, typically.”
Paul’s national security views remain a concern for many voters. But the mix of issues — on immigration, drug crimes, and fiscal sobriety — in what he calls a libertarian-conservative viewpoint — will certainly shake up the party. (Unclear is how gay marriage will fit into all this.) Paul is definitely not your run-of-the-mill Republican; how far that will take him remains to be seen.