Tuesday’s primaries in several states are being dubbed a mini-Super Tuesday, with not only Democratic mid-term prospects on the line but also the ballot-box strength of the tea party movement getting a major test. Among the more fascinating primaries is the GOP Senate contest in Kentucky, where it seems that tea party favorite Rand Paul, son of GOP congressman Ron Paul, will easily win over conventional Republican Trey Grayson.
If Paul wins the primary, he will serve as fuel for the GOP’s continuing self-immolation. If he wins the election in Nov., he will serve as proof that Kentucky voters don’t take their politics all that seriously.
Paul has run a campaign in which he has tried to distance himself from some of his father’s nuttier views, but he still occupies a space far outside the mainstream. He has said, for example, that a nuclear-armed Iran poses no threat to our national security. (See video below.)
Some of his views fit comfortably inside the borders of the GOP right wing. From the WaPo:
Paul’s campaign stops are feisty affairs at which supporters hoot and cheer as he weaves his personal biography and a list of grievances with Washington into a populist call to arms. The founder of the antitax organization Kentucky Taxpayers United, Paul rails against what he describes as Washington’s unsustainable spending, crippling debt, career politicians with no term limits, a “socialist” health-care law and a failure to close the nation’s borders to illegal immigrants.
He has become a national hero of the tea party movement by opposing new taxes and deficit spending and supporting such ideas as the abolition of the Department of Education and amending the Constitution so that children born in the United States to illegal immigrants would no longer become citizens automatically. A victory for him on Tuesday would further energize a movement already pumped up by the defeat of Sen. Robert F. Bennett in Utah’s Republican primary last weekend.
“Greece is defaulting right now on their debt,” he told the breakfast group. “One of the next things you’ll see is chaos on the streets. You’ll see violence. . . . And it can happen even in America if we’re not careful.”
But other views of his do not:
But Paul’s libertarian streak could lead to breaks with conservatives on some issues. He opposed the war in Iraq. He has spoken in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. A pro-Grayson advocacy group, trying to portray Paul as out of step with mainstream Republicans, is running a television ad featuring a chiming cuckoo clock.
Paul has reversed his stance on closing Guantanamo Bay, now declaring that he it should be kept open. But he was on the record as recently as last year saying that it should be shut down and that it had damaged America’s reputation abroad. (I think closing Gitmo is a fine idea, but most GOP voters do not.)
As former Bush speechwriter David Frum puts it:
While Rand Paul has delicately edged away from his father’s most provocative statements, he still makes regular appeals to his father’s extremist voting base. Rand Paul gives interviews to 9/11 conspiracy monger Alex Jones and solicits Jones’ fans for money. Jones in turn praises Rand Paul as the “real McCoy.”
Rand Paul’s last-minute conversion to tough-on-terrorism is not very credible. He has been caught on videotape denying the threat to U.S. national security posed by an Iranian nuclear weapon.
Rand Paul makes common cause with left-wing antiwar protesters. He has repeated his father’s view that 9/11 was some kind of logical response to U.S. foreign policy.
Ultimately, Rand Paul is a walking target for Democratic negative ads in a closely divided state with a culture of commitment to national security. But right now running the country – or even winning elections – is not a top-of-mind concern for many Republicans. They are voting to send a message, and it’s no time to be fussy about the background, competence, associations, and inner convictions of the messengers.