How is it that the GOP has lost its antibodies against a candidate like Rand Paul? In the past few months, we have seen GOP conservatives rally against Utah Sen. Bob Bennett [bold mine-DL]. There has been no similar rallying against Rand Paul: no ads by well-funded out-of-state groups.
Is Frum genuinely confused by the different reactions to the incumbent Bennett’s attempt to run for a third term after voting for the bailout and the first-time candidate Paul who opposed and denounced the bailout? If so, let me explain. On the most pressing economic and fiscal issues of the day, Paul was delivering a message that most conservatives want to hear. It was also a message that few on the right wanted to oppose openly. The Club for Growth spent something like $200,000 in the effort to defeat Bennett, because Bennett’s health care and bailout record made him one of their prime targets. The Club for Growth can sometimes do more electoral harm than good, but they obviously weren’t endangering control of a Senate seat in Utah by doing this. Rand Paul is in many respects the sort of candidate the Club for Growth embraces, so they were hardly going to mount an effort against him.
What of Paul’s foreign policy views? Why wasn’t there a serious effort by, say, Liz Cheney’s ridiculous organization Keep America Safe to derail Paul’s candidacy? I don’t know, but one could speculate that even national security hawks know a lost cause when they see one, at least when it comes to domestic politics, and they probably concluded that there was nothing to be done on behalf of such a flawed candidate as Grayson. Outside of a dedicated cadre of pundits and ideologues, many of whom remain inexplicably convinced of the war’s necessity and nobility, Paul’s opposition to the Iraq war does not automatically make him seem like an intolerable infection that must be destroyed. For a lot of “Jacksonian” hawkish Republican voters who always supported the invasion but have grown weary of the prolonged occupation, this might even recommend Paul to them as someone with superior judgment. Paul is also better than many non-interventionists at framing his opposition in terms that hawks and nationalists can understand and respect. It may befuddle Max Boot, but for every “Jacksonian” that Paul might alienate with his modest non-interventionist views he probably wins over two with his uncompromising pro-sovereignty position concerning international institutions.
Does Frum really expect conservatives to rally against Rand Paul on behalf of U.S. membership in the WTO? Even if most conservatives favor free trade (as Rand Paul does), many of them dislike ceding any control over U.S. trade policy for any reason. Does he think there are legions of die-hard defenders of the Federal Reserve just waiting for the signal to attack critics of the central bank? I understand why Frum wants conservatives to rally against Paul (he loathes people advocating a responsible, restrained foreign policy), but what position does Paul take that he thinks is so abhorrent that it would generate the kind of backlash that Bennett’s support for the bailout provoked? In fact, there doesn’t seem to be one, and that is probably what really troubles Frum.
P.S. I should add here that if a non-interventionist ever described his hawkish opponents as nothing more than trash and implied that they were an infection that needed to be wiped out, it would not be tolerated for a second. It would be roundly denounced as the vile, disgusting rhetoric that it is, and the reputation of the person responsible would be permanently damaged.
Update: Frum’s response misses the point. I don’t claim that antiwar conservatives and libertarians don’t use excessive, hyperbolic and sometimes offensive rhetoric. Obviously, many of us do, and it hasn’t helped our arguments over the years. Indeed, the dismissive reaction this excessive rhetoric has provoked in the past confirms my observation. Rhetorical excesses have made sure that we have marginalized our views as much as others have worked to marginalize them. For my part, I criticize other people harshly often enough, but I do my best to focus on their arguments. I don’t liken other people to garbage and diseases. What I was saying at the end of this post is quite simple. If the tables were turned and a non-interventionist said something like this, the rest of his argument would be dismissed automatically. The partly self-imposed marginal status of non-interventionist ideas is proof that this is correct. Meanwhile, hawks can baselessly and falsely condemn other people on the right as anti-American, unpatriotic, and would-be collaborators with the enemy, as Frum has done, and happily go about their business with no ill effects.