Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is forever in damage control mode. His suggested reading list is revealed to contain conspiratorial and anti-Semitic tracks. He silently scrubs the list. The “Southern Avenger,” a pro-Confederate extremist hired to help write Paul’s book (think about that for a minute), is found in his employ. He bristles, then relents and lets him resign. He plagiarizes material for his book and for speeches, then insists that’s perfectly fine before relenting. And then there are the outlandish statements (the U.S. provoked Japan before World War II, Vice President Dick Cheney took us to war for pecuniary gain, we shouldn’t “tweak” Russian President Vladimir Putin, containment of Iran shouldn’t be ruled out, we have no dog in the fight in Iraq, etc.). He took issue with civil rights legislation on a cable TV show, denied that he did and now sends out statements extolling the legislation anniversary. He lashes out when his own words are quoted back to him, insisting that he has been taken out of context or unfairly targeted (he’s running for president already, isn’t he?). He then, through a surly spokesman, hedges, quibbles and tries to rewrite his own words.
It’s hard to keep the crank mindset so reminiscent of his father, Ron Paul, hidden from view. He knows that set of beliefs that come naturally to him won’t fly with a mainstream electorate, so they have to be plowed over, masked, denied and used as evidence of his victimhood. But in the Google and YouTube age, nothing is ever lost for good; you can’t electronically cover your tracks. And people judge for themselves these days. They can read the speech, watch the video and look at the op-eds forever preserved in the electronic filing cabinet.
In a world in which the United States has become a punching bag, Russia is on the prowl and Iran defies the West, it’s not likely that the GOP will be willing to tap for its presidential nominee someone who thought it was a good idea to give John Kerry time to negotiate with Iran (and side with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the Menendez-Kirk sanctions bill) or criticize Republicans who recognized Putin’s ambitions before he did. It’s not enough now if you want to be commander in chief to be minimally acceptable or “not as nuts as your dad.” The country faces growing threats and drifts from crisis to crisis under a president suffering from many of the same delusions that afflict Rand Paul (pull all our troops home, dismantle anti-terrorism architecture, ignore jihadists in Syria). But whether he runs or not for president, what about his Senate seat, which will be up for grabs in 2014? (He wants to keep it unless the presidential thing doesn’t pan out.) Surely there must be a Kentucky version of Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) or Joni Ernst or Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) who is just as conservative fiscally but who really is Reaganesque on foreign policy — and devoid of the crazy baggage. (The Democrats seemed to have picked the wrong senator to target.)
Putting himself out there so early as a presidential aspirant left Paul open to scrutiny for which he was not prepared. The world has become a dyspeptic nightmare, with which he is ill suited to cope. The question is becoming not whether he will sneak by the presidential electorate — it’s too late for that — but whether this is the best Kentucky can do for a junior senator.