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Rand Paul’s Burned Bridges

Michael Brendan Dougherty tries [1] to persuade libertarians not to give up on Rand Paul:

Instead of saying “I’m done” and walking away forever, libertarians should take as much good policy as they can get. They should welcome limits on bad policies, even if these limits are incremental. And when they disagree, say so. Then grant yourself the liberty to support Rand Paul again later.

The trouble with this is that Dougherty is treating the drop in libertarian (and some conservative) support for Paul as if it is their responsibility to fix things by being more willing to take what little they can get. Normally, when a politician repeatedly does things that his most likely supporters oppose it is the politician that is expected to repair the breach that he has opened up. If he doesn’t, he can reasonably expect those supporters to withhold their backing. There would probably be more patience with attempts at coalition and bridge-building if Paul’s odder recent positions appeared to be something more than just caving to the hawks on one issue after another. It would also help if these positions made any sense on their own terms, but they [2] frequently [3] haven’t [4]. The decision to sign the Iran letter has been the last straw for many of his past supporters for obvious reasons. One of these was that the letter was just the latest in a string of bad and sometimes inexplicable moves that Paul has made in a mostly vain effort to shield himself from hard-line attacks. He has generally gone into something of a “defensive crouch” on foreign policy, which more or less negates much of what drew antiwar libertarians and conservatives to him in the first place. There have always been pluses and minuses to Paul’s foreign policy [5], but in the last year the minuses have been piling up and they aren’t being offset.

So far, Paul has been held to a pretty low standard by antiwar libertarians and conservatives in the name of pragmatism. At this point, they (we) are expected to keep lowering the bar so that Paul may continue to clear it. Take his support for the war on ISIS, for example. It is better that he wants to restrict the scope and duration of the war on ISIS than if he did not, but he shouldn’t be supporting such an unnecessary war at all. That’s not an unreasonable thing for people on the antiwar right to expect from someone whose main claim on their support is his past opposition to unnecessary foreign wars. It is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish him from the rest of his party on the issues that were supposed to set him apart, and so he is bound to receive less support as long as that is the case. Paul could try to fix this, but it may be too late to undo the damage. For the sake of trying to find common ground with people in the GOP that loathe him, he has burned bridges with many of the people that were once most likely to be on his side.

18 Comments (Open | Close)

18 Comments To "Rand Paul’s Burned Bridges"

#1 Comment By sglover On March 23, 2015 @ 4:19 pm

We’ll be hearing more of Dougherty’s basic arguments from Clinton flacks, when they try to bamboozle thinking Dems into buying their shoddy product.

#2 Comment By collin On March 23, 2015 @ 4:32 pm

Well the politics of debt, Obamacare, Great Recession and the Iraq war just aren’t what they were in 2012ish so the libertarian/non-intervenist movement has lost a lot of Mojo. At this point, Rand appears to be in a bit of daze and has had several errors for the Presidential 2016 campaign. That said here is why they should not give up on Rand:

1) People forget how inexperienced Rand is so he still can improve. He may learn to weave the issues better.
2) Like a lot of the Republican young guns, 2016 Primary needs both a good run but they need to build their name for 2020 or VP experience.
3) Rand needs to remember the path to big government starts with a war state.

#3 Comment By jamie On March 23, 2015 @ 4:56 pm

Compromise is reasonable if principled and both sides get a little of what they want. This does not apply to Rand Paul’s foreign policy — it’d be like if he supported Dodd-Frank and his health care plan was Medicare for All, and this was supposedly the “best libertarians could get.”

The whole Cotton Letter business just seems to show that Paul cannot tolerate having anyone to his right on foreign policy, and that’s a failure that transcends mere political expediency. It’s a completely unforced, pitched error; even if the letter had not transpired as a boner of gargantuan proportions, no one would have ever criticized Paul for not signing it.

And I’m not sure the Hillary comparison is apt.

#4 Comment By arrScott On March 23, 2015 @ 5:01 pm

At what point do we wake up and recognize that Rand Paul is the Dubya Bush of this decade? His entire appeal to a large, enthusiastic core of supporters is based on (1) Admiration for his father, projected onto the son; and (2) His own rhetorical claims to deserve that projected filial admiration. But like Bush the Lesser, Paul the Younger’s actions mark him as a mainstream Republican operative with only a few, minor, differences from the party establishment, and those mainly in terms of rhetoric and presentation style, not substance.

George W. Bush was Bill Frist, but with added interest in education policy and increasing welfare for old people. Rand Paul is Mitch McConnell, but with marijuana and a crackpot obsession with the gold standard.

Let Paul stay in the Senate another term or three. Possibly at some point in the future, he’ll actually earn the trust and the vote of anyone who cares about libertarian or “reform conservative” issues.

#5 Comment By Patrick On March 23, 2015 @ 5:43 pm

The 2 big issues for me are foreign policy and abortion, in that order. If Rand Paul is reaching for being the least bad on foreign policy then it makes me think harder about abortion. Is Rand the best candidate to advance the pro life agenda? Probably not. I’m thinking that Carla Fiorina is.

#6 Comment By The Confederate Firebrand On March 23, 2015 @ 5:49 pm

I love Rand Paul and support him 100%
If it wasn’t for his father I wouldn’t read the American Conservative.. His dad sparked my interest in politics. I will not vote for any one else but Rand Paul in 2016. I love the America Conservative and wish they would help Mr. Paul play the game.

#7 Comment By Ken Hoop On March 23, 2015 @ 6:21 pm

At least Obama has said on occasion, “some of my friends (on the left) don’t approve of what I’m doing here” in telling the right how much he should appreciate his compromises. I don’t believe Paul has ever even acknowledged his erstwhile fans while
betraying them.

#8 Comment By Essayist-Lawyer On March 23, 2015 @ 6:29 pm

The obvious question is, compared to what. Granted that Rand Paul is bad, can you name one mainstream candidate who is any better. So your basic choices are (1) vote for the best of a bad lot, or (2) throw away your vote on a libertarian who doesn’t stand a chance of winning.

Pick your poison.

#9 Comment By Hyperion On March 23, 2015 @ 7:05 pm

Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote: Then grant yourself the liberty to support Rand Paul again later.

Libertarians and their love of all things related to “liberty” make me GAG.

#10 Comment By You Can Go Home Again On March 23, 2015 @ 7:43 pm

He has to understand that the neocon tendency in the GOP will never trust him, will watch his every word and move, and will denounce him at the drop of hat. He has to understand that they are The Enemy, because they regard (and will always regard) him as such.

Acknowledging this should be liberating. He doesn’t have to worry about them anymore. It frees him to say and do things that at the moment he seems unable to permit himself.

Free yourself, Rand. Show yourself worthy of the inheritance of liberty and your own better angels! Go for it! All that goodwill that got you started, the affection and energy you got from your natural allies, it’ll come back if you show courage and start speaking truth to power again!

#11 Comment By Kurt Gayle On March 23, 2015 @ 7:52 pm

Daniel, you’re one of the few who consistently speak up for non-interventionism and foreign policy realism.

All too many have turned out to be Republicans first and non-interventionist/realists second. I had suspected as much for a long time, but the Rand Paul debacle has smoked out the pretenders.

Thanks for all your first-rate foreign policy analysis, Daniel, and for your honesty.

#12 Comment By Brendan Sexton On March 23, 2015 @ 8:08 pm

As we get deeper into campaign season, Rand Paul will sound more and more like all the other guys, except he will be more pro-pot.

#13 Comment By sean On March 23, 2015 @ 10:46 pm

Rand has two problems when it comes to libertarians. One is that Rand’s non-interventionism is seen to be politically expident and can be easily jettisoned in a larger pursuit for power. Rand is obviously his own man compared to his father but without his father’s Presidential campaigns, Rand would not be a U.S. Senator. Thus he owes his career to the Paul movement and the reason for its existence which is objection to the national security state as great enabler and supporter of big government. He doesn’t seem to understand this and as a result everything he does is seen as political rather than of what he stands for, which seems unclear with every political moves he makes (the Iran letter for example).

Secondly, the people who are a part of Rand’s political “team” (or the claque as I like to call them) seem to be in this more for money or political advancement i.e. government job than they are for a movement. Their support for Rand seems to be based on what Rand can get from the political power brokers i.e. Mitch McConnell or Mitt Romney. Thus they have alienated many Ron Paul early and staunchest supporters through their actions, whether it was endorsing Romney well before Ron Paul ended his campaign, selling off lists of Ron’s supporters and profiting from it, dumping Rand’s 2010 primary campaign staff and employing people instead such as Trygve Olson, McConnell’s boy who made his bones as an NGP interventionist in the Balkans, to conducting potentially illegal activities in the 2012 campaign in Iowa, including bribery of a state senator. The fact that Rand is willing to employ such persons is also alienating to supporters and is not something political posturing is going to fix. There are a lot of hurt feelings out there that go beyond policy differences.

It’s not libertarians won’t support Rand, they simply will not go out of their way to do much for him like they did for Ron in ’08 and ’12. And Rand has given signals that grassroots support isn’t a priority for his upcoming campaign. Fine then. I’m sure he has plenty of machines to do robo calls, plenty of them to send out direct mail letters, computers to do money bombs and TV ads to tear down his opponents. What does he need libertarians for really? He has everything he needs to be Conservative INC. candidate.

#14 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On March 23, 2015 @ 11:15 pm

It’s all very sad, but I can’t disagree. We can hope he shifts a bit more to the non-interventionist side but that may be a pipe dream.

#15 Comment By Tex Tradd On March 24, 2015 @ 12:08 am

That Paul somehow Cottoned on to that letter is terrible and demoralizing. I suspect thousands of people in the liberty movement will no longer actively support him now. It’s not too late for him to admit his mistake, but Michigan Representative Justin Amash may very well inherit much of the movement that elevated Ron Paul to national prominence.

#16 Comment By hetzer On March 24, 2015 @ 9:35 am

What’s the point of selling out if it makes you *less* likely to win?

#17 Comment By Ken T On March 24, 2015 @ 1:37 pm

“People forget how inexperienced Rand is so he still can improve.”

Collin: This may be true, but it isn’t going to happen in the next year. I think arrScott has a better feel for the timeframe “Let Paul stay in the Senate another term or three.”

In other words, by 2024 or 2028, Paul might grow up enough to be a leader, but I’m certainly not holding my breath until then.

#18 Comment By jay On March 24, 2015 @ 11:17 pm

I’m a Ron Paul fan and I’m a Rand Paul fan. I’ve attended too many rallies for Ron Paul and heard both of them speak to think Rand would be any less than by far the best choice for the Republican Party. He signed on to the letter because the President can’t undo laws in order to get a peace deal. I don’t see the issue with signing that letter. IF ONLY we had had presidents during the past 70 years that would bring foreign conflicts for a vote in congress instead of just later asking for the budget for it. Rand wouldn’t need to be preaching non-interventionism all the time for the result to be non-interventionism.