What does Rand Paul believe? Does he really know anymore? Or have his efforts at pragmatic compromise left him just as confused as the rest of us about who he really is?
For a long time, many people have believed that Rand Paul can’t be too much different from his uncompromising father. Ron Paul has preached a purist message for decades, as a Republican congressman, a Libertarian Party presidential candidate and then as a Republican presidential candidate. No matter how politically unpopular it was, Ron Paul could be counted on to be consistent — every single time.
How much different could his son be? He called himself a libertarian and he’s said many of the right things about reducing the size of government and about the virtues of making governance as close to local as possible. But ever since he entered GOP politics, he’s been ever more willing to say and do things to court the Republican mainstream and the party powers. Libertarians are now looking at him and wondering whether the man they saw as the heir to his father’s movement is one of them or if he’s really one of the people they’ve spent decades fighting.
Rand Paul has had foreign policy views much more in line with those of the GOP establishment than his father’s. Whereas Ron Paul is willing to point out ugly truths that have mainstream Republican audiences booing him, Rand Paul has been much more careful not to stray too far from the GOP party line. He still supported his father, though, so nobody was accusing him of really “selling out” to The Establishment.
Now, Paul is acting like someone who’s caught between two worlds, not really a part of either and not really trusted by either side.
In June, Paul angered libertarians when he endorsed Mitt Romney for president. Everyone who’s ever been part of party politics understands what was going on. Romney was the obvious winner — even if some in the Ron Paul camp were delusional enough to claim the race wasn’t over — so Rand Paul was offering token support to his party’s nominee. That’s just what you do in party politics.
But Ron Paul’s supporters had the bizarre notion that they could play party politics and not be subject to the rules that apply to everyone else. That’s the way Ron Paul has played it, and it doesn’t seem to have occurred to many of his fans that it hasn’t gotten him very far. They’ll argue about all the people who Paul’s campaigns have brought into “the movement,” but they have nothing practical to show for it. They always point to some vague future where “the People” are going suddenly agree and they’re all going to vote for a libertarian candidate.
There’s a name for that genre of literature. We call it fantasy.
Rand Paul has apparently decided to play a very different game than the one his father played. His father was the outsider who told the truth as he saw it. That role didn’t change anything, so Rand Paul has decided to be “the libertarian insider.” As a career move, it might actually work.
Within a fairly narrow range, parties don’t care too much if some of their elected officials have some eccentric rhetoric at times, but they want those people voting the party line — and they mostly want those people lining up to beat “the enemy” in national elections. Ron Paul didn’t play those games. Rand Paul is playing them.
Once you endorse Mitt Romney, how much credibility can you have as a libertarian? How many of your principles are you forced to throw out the window to support someone who is so much a part of the problem as Romney is?
Now that Paul Ryan has been named the GOP vice presidential nominee, Rand Paul is dutifully continuing the play the party game. If this were any other politician, it wouldn’t be noteworthy. From the son of Ron Paul, it’s been considered noteworthy that he tepidly praises the Ryan choice, even though Ryan doesn’t believe much of what the Paul family has fought for.
Rand Paul has clearly made a decision to make himself acceptable to the Republican establishment. He’s playing their games, even if he still nods to the libertarian “barbarians” outside the system. If he plays this game long enough — and if he keeps making one compromise after another — Rand Paul has a chance to gain some power in the GOP. He could even be a presidential contender himself.
But what’s he really going to stand for after all those compromises? Is anybody going to know? Is he even going to recognize himself?
You can’t play with fire without getting burned. You can’t compromise with the coercive state’s political system without becoming more and more like it. You can’t fight evil by becoming evil yourself. For his sake, I hope Rand Paul eventually figures that out.