And crank or no, Paul won in Kentucky on the merits, out-hustling, out-organizing, and out-arguing a Republican establishment that took a solid candidate in Grayson and sent him to the hustings with a lazy caricature of a Bush-era national security message [bold mine-DL].
Ross links to this story showing one of Grayson’s ads, which mentions Paul’s opposition to the PATRIOT Act and a statement in which he articulates the argument for blowback as a cause of terrorism. These are perfectly reasonable positions, and outside the Republican hawkish bubble they would hardly be controversial now. The ad mentions these things as if they are supposed to be shocking and “strange,” which I’m sure Grayson and his allies think they are, but how were Grayson’s attacks a caricature of a Bush-era national security message? One might say that the Republican national security message during the Bush Era seemed like the caricature of a real policy view, but that is too easy.
Grayson was simply adopting the standard arguments for privileging any and all anti-terrorist measures over constitutional protections, and he was in complete denial that U.S. policies have any role in provoking, radicalizing or inciting violence against American and allied targets. I’m not going to say that Grayson ran a good campaign, because he clearly didn’t, but a crucial part of why his campaign was so bad was his obsession with Paul’s national security views and the lazy nationalist demagoguery he used to attack those views. This is not a caricature of the GOP’s Bush-era national security message–it is their message. It is a condensed version of everything Cheney, Giuliani, Santorum and other Grayson backers have said for at least the last nine years. One of the encouraging things about the Kentucky Republican Senate result is that most Republican primary voters in a very red state did not respond to this demagoguery and appeals to hawkish extremism. I am always pessimistic that rank-and-file Republicans are ever going to be willing to break with the defenders of an expansive national security and warfare state, and it would be a mistake to conclude this from Paul’s victory, but at the very least Paul’s landslide victory suggests that there are things that matter far more to party regulars.
A large part of the reason why Grayson’s attacks failed was that fiscal and economic issues loomed large in this race, which made Grayson’s obsession with Paul’s other views seem not only irrelevant but another sign that he, as the establishment’s preferred candidate, was wildly out of touch with what mattered to the electorate right now. It is fitting that Santorum was one of his endorsers, as he ran a very Santorum-like campaign with a similarly poor result. Four years ago, Santorum decided for some reason to make foreign policy alarmism and super-hawkish views into the core of his re-election campaign in a year when the public had already turned against the Iraq war and economic insecurity and anxiety were growing concerns. One could have said that Santorum was otherwise a solid candidate who was saddled with a “lazy caricature” of Bush-era national security views, but that would not be true. Santorum embraced those views, and if they resembled a caricature it was because he made them that way. While he did not spend quite as much time warning against the dire Venezuelan menace, the same was true with Grayson. Perhaps most strange of all, Grayson seems to have thought that voters were going to be deeply concerned that Paul was a libertarian in the wake of a financial crisis and recession that most Republican voters view as being caused in no small part by unwise government policies and decisions.
Grayson’s failure is interesting for another reason. The national Republican leadership and quite a few conservative pundits and bloggers have convinced themselves that excessive spending and government expansion were the things that drove the public away from the GOP, and this is not at all true. Nonetheless, when a primary candidate appeared who made an argument for strong fiscal conservatism and opposition to bailouts, much of the party establishment worked to try to defeat him. If the spending argument were correct, Paul would be an ideal candidate for the fall and the party leadership ought to have rallied around him. In refusing to do so and in actively working to defeat Paul, Grayson’s backers have made clear that they don’t actually put much stock in their own anti-spending rhetoric, and they have reminded everyone that their aggressive, ruinous views on national security take precedence over everything else.