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Why Rand Paul Endorsed

Phil speaks [1] for many Ron Paul supporters who, to judge from what I’ve seen on Facebook, never expected that Rand Paul would endorse Mitt Romney. I’m a little surprised at the reaction, as Senator Paul has adopted from the beginning an approach to retail politics rather different from his father’s. Ron Paul has held the party as far at arm’s length as possible while remaining within it, going so far as to endorse an assortment of third-party candidates in 2008 [2]. That’s highly unusual even for a principled dissenter — Pat Buchanan, after all, ultimately endorsed Bush I and Dole in the 1990s and Bush II in 2004. There are two strategies here: one is to build a party-within-a-party, almost literally a third party within the GOP. This keeps your movement pure, in its adherents’ minds at least, but it also means that most grassroots Republicans do not think you and your supporters are really good-faith members of the party, and that makes it hard to convert those voters to your side. We saw this play out in Ron Paul’s 2012 campaign: he did very well with independents and non-Republicans in Republican contests, but he did not do well enough among GOP voters to win a single primary.

The second strategy, which Buchanan adopted and now Rand seems to be testing, is to be loyal to the party while establishing yourself as one of its philosophical poles: Buchanan was the party’s social-conservative pole in the 1990s, and Rand has a strong claim to being the constitutionalist pole today. The advantage here is that regular Republicans are open to your message — hence Buchanan could win the 1996 New Hampshire primary — but part of the price to paid is support for the party’s nominee. Rand may have a better shot at succeeding through this strategy than Buchanan did, since PJB challenged both the economic dogmas of the party and its foreign policy, while Rand only challenges its foreign-policy (and related civil-liberties) assumptions. Neocons waged an unceasing campaign in the 1990s — carried on by Ramesh Ponnuru in National Review to this day — to brand Buchanan as something other than a conservative and a Republican. His economic views came under attack at least as often as his foreign policy because his enemies sensed a political weakness.

In fact, we can deduce something important from the preference Buchanan’s enemies have sometimes shown for going after his economic views: the GOP base and the conservative movement are more divided on foreign policy than they are on economics. Note the surprisingly strong pushback Frum’s “Unpatriotic Conservatives [3]” attack on right’s anti-Iraq War dissidents received. That year was the high-water mark of neoconservatism and war fever, yet it still proved impossible to pull off a complete purge — Robert Novak, for one, survived the assassin’s dagger. Now that the neoconservatives have been discredited in more than a few right minds (and even pragmatic, what’s-in-it-for-me political minds) by what their wars have wrought, reading out someone like Rand Paul on grounds of “unpatriotic conservatism” would be impossible. And now he’s made it hard for the militarists and big-government cons to read him out on grounds of disloyalty to the party, too.

It’s possible that the integration strategy will backfire, that by lending support to Romney it will lend support to the neocons eager to occupy his administration and who already fill the ranks of his foreign-policy advisers. But the attempt to build a third party has comprehensively failed, as the sorry annals of the Libertarian, Constitution, and Reform parties show, and the attempt to build a party-within-a-party showed no signs this year of having a chance. If the integration strategy fails — and giving up one’s principles would be the greatest failure of all, yet so far Rand’s Senate record is pretty good, and PJB never surrendered his realism or economic nationalism for the sake of Bush or Dole — then the liberty movement will have to try something else. There’s no a priori path to succeeding in politics in order to change policy in this country; like many things [4], political strategy is a matter of trial and error.

All of this only describes what politicians have to think about. Voters are another subject, and organs of ideas, such as magazines and think tanks, must play a very different role from organs of power, such as parties. Voters and thinkers ought to be a check on power and partisanship — but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t understand how that very different world works.

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#1 Comment By Mithrandir-Olorin On June 8, 2012 @ 2:37 pm

I’ve disliked this strategy of Rand from the Start. This is the last straw, Rand I no longer consider an ally.

#2 Comment By Will Leach On June 8, 2012 @ 3:33 pm

The strategic arguments are all well and good but if this is who Rand Paul wants to be then he is not what Washington needs. Regardless of whether or not he wants to change the system the system has changed him. Im not at all surprised, but Im disappointed. I never expect a son to be his father, but I was rooting for his better angels.

#3 Comment By Robert_Burdette On June 8, 2012 @ 4:07 pm

I’ve never understood why anyone ever thought Rand Paul was going to be anything other than a conventional politician. He has gone out of his way to placate the worst elements of the Republican power structure, and yet he is looked upon as some sort of anti-establishment radical. Has everyone forgotten his numerous “neoconesque” outbursts during the 2010 campaign about Obama’s “apology tour?”

I think many people are trying to make the younger Paul into something he’s not, and probably never will be. Furthermore, it doesn’t appear Rand has his father’s easy going temperament, which in my opinion is the primary thing that allowed the congressmen to build such a loyal group of supporters over the last four years. To me, Rand comes of as braggadocios and self-important. Kind of Al Gore on steroids: “I’m the most intelligent guy and the room, and perhaps someday you will be smart enough to see that I’m right.”

#4 Comment By Jumping Jack On June 8, 2012 @ 4:27 pm

Sacrifice politics to advance principle. If he doesn’t endorse Romney, it means he’s not endorsing the removal of Obama from office this year. Not saying it’s justified nor is that an acceptable view, but the voters would of remembered that in 2016. Besides, who cares? Mike Lee endorsed Romney saying “he earned it” and I could care less. Endorsements are overrated and as long as neither of them sacrifice the power they have in the senate for a VP spot, I really could care less.

#5 Comment By TomB On June 8, 2012 @ 5:32 pm

As Will Leach above says all of Mr. McCarthy’s straterigizing (as George Bush might say) is well and good but, to put it another way, forgets the first law of politics and indeed leadership: Never betray your base.

I never knew much about Rand Paul, but I know now I don’t care.

And one more thing Mr. McCarthy misses in all his ponderings too that Rand Paul also apparently missed: Not even really understanding his own movement and supporters.

While one never knows how things might turn out, it also might just be that we just witnessed huge case of political hari kari.

#6 Comment By Jack Ross On June 8, 2012 @ 6:24 pm

I was very hard on candidate Rand Paul but have a much better opinion of him as a Senator. I can see him as a Republican nominee in four years, but I can also see him proving as miserably disappointing a President as Obama.

In any event, I do find that Dan is much too glib about dismissing the third party route. Yes, the LP and CP are horrible embarrassments, but there’s still a principle involved – the two party system is an evil in itself.

#7 Comment By Jim Evans On June 9, 2012 @ 1:18 am

Obviously, Sen. Rand Paul has disappointed a number of his supporters and his father’s.

What I find curious is that Rand’s endorsement of Romney came before a clear endorsement of Romney by his father.

That had to be a thought out decision on the Paul camp’s part.

Seems that Sen. Paul (and likely his father) wanted the spotlight on Rand’s endorsement of Romney. In the short run that hurt him with the Pauls’ most passionate supporters, but will help with rank-n-file Republicans at large over time.

If Rand wants to be effective within the Republican Party his endorsement of Romney was a must do and he might as well get as much political mileage from it as possible, thus, his doing it now.

Over time Sen. Paul should try and explain this rational with his most passionate supporters who are miffed right now, but are open to an explanation from the senator, himself.

Obviously, some supporters never will come around, but that’s the choices and risks in politics.

In the big picture and long-term, I think it is sound political strategy.

As far a third parties go, if Romney wins, but then fails to bring the economy into solid growth and/or gets into a disasterous war which repudiates Republicans, again (like 2006 & 2008), then I think a third party could be viable.

Pat Buchanan is right on foreign policy realism & economic nationalism, but his timing was wrong (not his fault). But with the manifest failure of both parties (which wasn’t clear during the 90’s) the political timing could be right (with the right standard bearer).

Interestingly, both foreign policy realism & economic nationalism are ticking upward in support among Americans and within the Republican Party rank-n-file. Libya & Syria are exposing the warhawks to criticism and it doesn’t hurt that Obama is doing it, thus, Republicans are able to channel their misgivings and opposition into a politically acceptable partisan expression in this hyper-partison season before the Fall election.

The timing might be right for Sen. Paul in 2016 (if only we could get him to see the light regarding economic nationalism 🙂 ).

#8 Comment By Sean Scallon On June 9, 2012 @ 7:39 am

It’s not so much that Rand Paul endorsed Romney, which many Ron Paul felt was going to eventually happen. It’s the timing of it. It’s the capstone to month-long disengagement project by the Paul 2012 campaign which has been so clumsily done it’s only managed to anger and dismay supporters who are still out there fighting, even as we speak, to get the delegates the campaign says they want. Would it have hurt Rand to wait until after Romney was officially nominated? Add to this a lot of anger of the campaign’s management and questioning of their strategies and you get a perfect storm of protest from the Paulites.

While I don’t think Rand will be Romney’s vice-presidential nominee, I do share in Daniel Larison’s concern that’s Rand’s enthusiastic endorsement of Romney sounded very naive concerning foreign policy, especially when you consider what Romney has said on the campaign trail, who is advising him and who he would put in his administration. Ron Paul’s critique of U.S. foreign policy is the main focus of not just his campaign but his entire movement. Thus the cries betrayal from many Paul supporters.

I would also argue that the party-within-a-party strategy is working, slowly but surely. Paul forces have taken over several state GOP parties and given the age of Paul supporters compared to those of his opponents, it would seem time on their side. Thus it would seem strange Rand would abandon this strategy so soon to get in with the in-crowd. Not only that, a Romney Administration would be bad news for those local Paul-controlled state parties.

But I suspect this endorsement is Rand’s way of breaking with the grassroots and forging his own path to the nomination if that’s what it comes down to. If, as many would say, Ron Paul’s supporters are a hinderance to his own movement and its electoral chances within the party, then Rand would probably feel it wise to distance himself from them. I’m sure he knew his endorsement of Romney would anger a lot of Paul supporters but I’m confident to say I don’t think he cares at this point. Rand 2016 will be a very top-down, very tightly controlled entity (much like Mitt 2012) dependent upon TV ads, large amounts of money from big donors and other modern techniques of campaigning. If people want to support it great but they have to do so from their living rooms because they have robots now who can do the telephone calling and they don’t need sign wavers.

#9 Comment By CharlesTX On June 9, 2012 @ 7:58 am

My gut tells me it’s a strategic move, and compromising is the reality in Washington DC. Which in essence is the core problem of a two party system. It is tough to swallow that Rand, who’s rhetoric and actions are the most conservative of his senate mates, endorses someone who is almost polar opposite and very in line with Obama’s domestic and foreign policy. This is a risk he’s taking, but from what I’m seeing now is his base support viewing him as a turncoat. Time will tell if what he’s doing is the right thing or if he turns out to be another douchebag politician who uses political entrepreneurship for self gain rather than serve the public’s interest like his father did.

#10 Comment By Don On June 9, 2012 @ 11:05 am

Question is: how long before the other shoe drops – the father’s endorsement of Mitt Romney?

#11 Comment By Lance On June 9, 2012 @ 3:21 pm

My question to Ron Paul fans who are attacking Rand Paul for his recent decision to endorse Romney: Do you truly believe that Rand did not first ask for advice and approval from his father before making this decision?

#12 Pingback By Three More Views on Rand Paul On June 9, 2012 @ 9:41 pm

[…] here for the Star Wars one, and to Robert Wenzel for the other two.) P.S. If I point you guys to Dan McCarthy explaining why Rand Paul did this, will you bite his head off too? In that case, don’t follow the […]

#13 Comment By Chris Fountain On June 11, 2012 @ 10:44 am

As a 2007 alum of the Ron Paul School of Door-to-Door Campaigning, I empathize with the many who are disappointed. I, too, am frustrated by this event. However, I think there is a little too much piling on going on. Let’s be honest: Rand Paul is still either the best Senator we have, or a close second to Mike Lee from UT. This endorsement hasn’t changed that; indeed it might mean Rand gets invited to a hypothetical President Romney strategy session on how to deal with XYZ country. Amongst elected GOP Senators, there really aren’t too many other folks I’d rather see trying to hold back the neoclown onslaught. You might say that probably won’t happen, but I can promise you it won’t if Rand doesn’t at least give Mitt token support for his run.

Another thing to consider is that if we don’t support Rand, he’ll be forced to seek out support from other quarters who have different policy focuses. His record is a bit mixed on some things, especially some of his comments on Iran. But, on the flip-side his work in trying to thanklessly stop the US involvement in Libya was pure Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Peace be with you.

#14 Comment By Chris Fountain On June 11, 2012 @ 10:49 am

@Lance: “Do you truly believe that Rand did not first ask for advice and approval from his father before making this decision?”

Let’s not forget who we are talking about. What words come to mind when we think of Ron Paul: Libertarian? Yes. Non-Interventionist? Yes. Family man? Yes. Kingmaker? No. Mafia Don? Not so much.

He probably told his son what most fathers would say: “Son, you do what you think is best for you and your family, and I will support you in whatever way that I am able to.”

#15 Comment By Chris Fountain On June 11, 2012 @ 10:53 am

@Don “Question is: how long before the other shoe drops – the father’s endorsement of Mitt Romney?”

Sorry, but I don’t see it happening. As Dan said, Rand always said he would eventually do this, but Ron has never made a similar statement. He is leaving DC after this year and, unlike Rand, Ron has literally nothing to gain politically from a gesture of endorsement, and everything to lose.

Peace be with you.