Note: This piece was originally written in September of 2014. Senator Rand Paul has since announced his candidacy for Presidency and suspended his campaign.
At this point, it seems inevitable that Rand Paul will run for President in 2016. The media infatuation with the junior Senator from Kentucky and his “libertarian” philosophy has only grown in the last few months, even from sources that are nominally called the liberal media by conservatives, including the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, even the New York Times ran an article about how libertarian philosophies were the latest political craze sweeping the nation. These articles seem to leave many things out; the criticism of both libertarian philosophies and Rand Paul seem to be held to a minimum. This piece will be how libertarian philosophies connect to voters, focus on Rand Paul’s tenure as Senator, and why there is such an infatuation with the younger Paul.
Defining libertarianism and defining “Paulism”
The Libertarian Party of the United States argues that they seek a world of liberty, in which all individuals are “sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others.” They go on to clarify that “all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.”
Because of these beliefs, Libertarians should have control of their own bodies making them very “liberal” on their views of prostitution, drug use, and gambling. Additionally, they believe that there should not be government censorship or government established, or favored, religion. For the most part, libertarians believe that those who identify as LGBT should be treated as equals and that “consenting adults should be free to choose their own sexual practices and personal relationships.” Likewise, they believe that abortion decisions should be left to the individual. Laws establishing crimes without victims should not be considered crimes according to their beliefs. Libertarians are slavishly devoted to the free market and adherent to the policies established by the free market. Finally, their beliefs would entail an isolationist foreign policy with the military only being built to defend against an attack on U.S. soil. There is a book published by the Ayn Rand Institute making a hawkish libertarian argument, which admittedly I have not read.
Here is where we should probably differentiate what we mean by libertarianism and the policy preferences of the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. The libertarianism that is espoused by the Pauls and other members of the libertarian wing, for the most part, is traditional libertarianism combined with the beliefs of the religious right. We saw above, that for the most part, libertarianism entails fiscally conservative policies with socially liberal policies. Those within the Republican ranks who espouse libertarian beliefs almost always hold conservative views on abortion, LGBT issues, etc. The main difference is that the libertarian wing of the Republican Party wants to decriminalize marijuana. Jokingly on the internet, it has become common to refer to libertarians as Republicans who like to smoke pot. The Paul’s are no different, we’ll see Rand’s views below, but Ron was strong pro-life, voted initially against the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, among other issues. The furthest libertarian many of them will go on LGBT issues is to say that the states should decide on how to define/handle the issue. This combination of libertarianism and the views of the religious right has become what I refer to as Paulism.
The popularity of Paulism
The biggest strength in the public opinion of voters is the idea of a smaller government. This opinion has become prevalent and has been the central plank of both political parties. Both political parties have campaigned on the idea of cutting spending for government programs that their respective party disagrees with. According to a CBS News Poll released on August 5, 2014, 56% of adults nationwide would rather have a smaller government providing fewer services compared to 35% of adults who believe the government should be bigger and provide more services. This is fairly consistent with what we see in the polling results. A CNN poll released on October 20, 2013 found that 60% of adults nationwide believe that the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. 35% believe the government should do more. A Gallup poll released on September 9, 2013 found that 53% of adults nationwide answered that the government is trying to do too much compared to 40% who believe the government should do more. The Gallup Poll has been asked going back since 2008 with the same basic results. Clearly, Americans want to rein in the federal government.
If we attribute libertarianism/Paulism with a slavish devotion to the free market and business, we can see another great strength of libertarianism. 61% of Americans had a positive image of capitalism according to a January 27, 2010 Gallup poll. In that same poll, 86% of Americans reported having a positive image of free enterprise (I’m guessing because the word free is in there). Entrepreneurs were seen as having a positive image with 84% of Americans. If you were wondering why politicians drone on and on about small business it might be that 95% of Americans have a positive image of small business. You may want to take that poll with a grain of salt as it was about 11 months before the TEA Party wave of 2010. Even if you regress the poll results downward, you see that Americans have a very positive image of businesses, capitalism, and the free market.
Rand Paul’s primary/campaign
In 2010, Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning decided to retire rather than to seek re-election. Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson was the initial favorite, as Paul was a little known ophthalmologist who was giving speeches around the state. Paul was able to raise nearly half a million dollars on August 20, 2009. He quickly capitalized on his outsider status and small government rhetoric. He painted Grayson as a career politician and a liar. Grayson countered that Paul opposed the PATRIOT Act, supported the closing of Guantanamo Bay, and that the foreign policy decisions prior to September 11, 2001 were partially to blame for the attacks. Paul accused Grayson of lying and accused Grayson of displaying a shameful tactic. This would remain a useful tactic for Paul throughout his political career.
Paul initially supported the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison facility. Early in his campaign for Senate, he reversed that position and probably because of campaign advertisements attacking this position eventually supported closing Guantanamo. He stated, “foreign terrorists do not deserve the protections of our Constitution…these thugs should stand before military tribunals and be kept off American soil. I will always fight to keep Kentucky safe and that starts with cracking down on our enemies.
The popular ad hoc narrative around Rand’s campaign and TEA Party groups in general has been that the traditional polling firms underrated their candidates. This narrative is false. While Grayson was the early favorite leading Paul in early polls by about 10 points in August and September, by November Paul had barely taken the lead according to a Survey USA poll. By Christmastime 2009, Paul now had a commanding lead over Grayson by nearly 20 points, according to Public Policy Polling. Paul never relinquished this lead. On May 18, 2010, Paul won the Republican nomination by 23 points.
In Kentucky, minor parties and independents are required to collect 5,000 signatures before getting their potential candidate on the ballot. By filing deadline on August 10, 2010, no minor party or independent candidates filed. This fits into the quite convenient narrative that Paul is a Libertarian and no Libertarian candidate would file out of deference to Paul. Again, we see the narrative fall short. The Kentucky Libertarian Party issued a press release stating that Paul was not a Libertarian. In that press release, they expanded on the title by providing concrete examples of where Paul differs from the Libertarian Party. The Libertarian Party “want[s] a complete repeal of the PATRIOT Act, closure of Guantanamo Bay, and an end to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Paul campaigned on keeping Guantanamo Bay and the Libertarian Party stated Paul “denied that he seeks to overturn the PATRIOT Act.” The Libertarian Party of Kentucky was also critical of Paul for supporting the “discriminatory ‘one man, one woman’ definition of marriage” and not supporting civil unions. Finally, Paul agreed with a law that outlawed adoption by anyone not living in a traditional, legally recognized, marriage. This was, again, at odds with the Libertarian Party of Kentucky and most Libertarians.
While running for Senate in 2010, there was some debate about a mosque that was potentially going to be built two blocks from Ground Zero. Paul stated that he did not support a mosque being built two blocks from Ground Zero. He went on to say, “in my opinion, the Muslim community would better serve the healing process by making a donation to the memorial fund for the victims of September 11th. “
Perhaps his most famous incident while campaigning was an interview where he stated that he would have tried to modify the Civil Rights Act to get rid of the title that would ban segregation at private institutions. It became the focus of his campaign and set up tension for after he was elected. Paul repeatedly stated that he was not a racist and that he abhorred racism but he did not want to limit the free speech of private businesses. In an interview with Rachel Maddow, he stated that businesses that practiced segregation were practicing bad business. After the ensuing questioning of such a policy, Paul stated that he would not support repealing the Civil Rights Act. On May 20, 2010 after Paul won the primary, he made an announcement to clear up the confusion of whether he supports the Civil Rights Act. He stated “I unequivocally state that I will not support any efforts to repeal the Civil Rights Act.” In his statement, he criticized the liberal establishment because they are “desperate to keep leaders like [Paul] out of office, and we are sure to hear more wild, dishonest smears during this campaign.”
His opponent in the 2010 Senate race was Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway. Conway was considered the slight favorite in early polling leading by about 4 points according to polls by SurveyUSA and Rasmussen released in August-November of 2009. By December of 2009, Paul had taken a 6 point lead, according to Public Policy Polling. In virtually every poll after December of 2009, Paul led Conway, peaking at 25 point lead according to Rasmussen in May of 2010. At the time, there was some talk that Conway could upset Rand in the general election. Perhaps because of that, a lot of money was spent on the campaign. Paul raised nearly $8 million compared to Conway’s nearly $6 million.
There were five debates between Conway and Paul. One debate, in particular, was nasty between the two candidates. The debate was on October 18, 2010. Conway brought up stories about Paul that circulated about the latter’s college years at Baylor University. Senator Paul was a member of the NoZe Brotherhood that was banned at Baylor University for mocking Christianity. Allegedly, Rand and a friend led a female student to a creek, tied her up and made her worship “Aqua Buddha.” Paul was furious and said to Conway, “don’t make up stuff about me from college that you think you’ve read on the Internet blogs. Grow up.” The report in question was in the Lexington Herald-Leader among other news outlets.
Going further, Paul said, “Jack, you should be ashamed of yourself. Have you no decency? Have you no shame?”
Conway replied, “Values matter. Why did he freely join a group known for mocking or making fun of people of faith? And secondly, when is it ever a good idea to tie up a woman and ask her to kneel before a false idol called Aqua Buddha?” Instead of answering the questions, apologizing for the incident, denying the incident took place, or pivot to anything else, Paul attacked Conway.
“You know how we know you’re lying? Your lips are moving. You’re accusing me of crimes. Do you know nothing about the process? You’re going to stand there and accuse me of a crime from 30 years ago from some anonymous source? How ridiculous are you? You embarrass this race. You really have no shame, have you?” Paul responded. It’s shameful to criticize Rand.
Paul criticized Conway for not joining many other states for suing the Obama administration over the constitutionality of Obamacare. Paul argued that there were constitutional problems with the individual mandate and other portions of the law. This was before the Supreme Court would rule that the mandate was, in fact, constitutional. Conway said,”[I’m] always amused to get a lecture in constitutional law from a self certified ophthalmologist.” Conway went further saying that there was no constitutional question when it came to Obamacare.
According to the polling results, people seemed to have liked Paul more after the debate. A poll conducted by Rasmussen on October 18 showed Paul leading 47-42. Rasmussen conducted another poll on October 23 and found Paul leading by 7 points, 50-43. Conway’s chances of winning the election substantially declined. The final poll conducted by Public Policy Polling on October 30 showed Paul leading by 15 points, 55-40. The final election results showed Paul had won, 55-44.
Rand Paul’s early tenure
The media and Rand did not always have such a great relationship. Shortly after his re-election, when he was questioned about his stance on the Civil Rights Act, Paul asked when his victory lap would begin. He refused to go on the show “Meet the Press” if they were going to ask him about his stance on the Civil Rights Act. He would later accuse the media of misconstruing his position. This was a tactic he would learn how to use well.
One of his first acts during his Senate tenure was to help produce a bill that would be known as the Birthright Citizenship Act with Senator David Vitter (R-LA). Currently, children born in the United States are considered United States citizens, regardless of the citizenship status of their parents. The legislation introduced by Paul and Vitter would amend the Constitution so that the child can gain citizenship only if, at least one parent is a legal citizen, legal immigrant, active member of the Armed Forces, or a naturalized legal citizen. When a child is born, the parents of the child would have to prove their citizenship status. While introducing the legislation, Senator Paul maintained that “citizenship is a privilege, and only those who respect our immigration laws should be able to enjoy its benefits.” Going further, Senator Paul argued that this legislation would make it that “everyone follow the rules, and goes through the same process to become a U.S. citizen.”
Shortly after being elected to the Senate, Senator Paul challenged Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid on the re-authorization of the PATRIOT Act. He called the law an “unconstitutional infringement on civil liberties.” He tried to insert a series of amendments to weaken the law. The first would limit suspicious activity reporting requirements to requests from law enforcement agencies and the other would exempt certain gun records from being searched under the PATRIOT Act.
In May of 2011, he went on Sean Hannity’s radio show to discuss racial profiling in airports. On the show, Paul said, “I’m not for profiling people on the color of their skin, or on their religion, but I would take into account where they’ve been traveling and perhaps, you might have to indirectly take into account whether or not they’ve been going to radical political speeches by religious leaders. It wouldn’t be that they’re Islamic. But if someone is attending speeches from someone who is promoting the violent overthrow of our government, that’s really an offense that we should be going after –they should be deported or put in prison.” Luckily, the TEA Party did not hold any such rallies and did not make statements that they needed to water the tree of liberty (with the blood of tyrants) and to take the country back. At least he doesn’t support racial profiling. Well, except, he sort of is for racial profiling. From the same radio show, “I do want them going after, for example, let’s say we have a 100,000 exchange students from the Middle East – I want to know where they are, how long they’ve been here, if they’ve overstayed their welcome, whether they’re in school.”
On November 29, 2011, Senator Paul made a floor speech in the U.S. Senate titled “Preserving Constitutional Liberties.” In the speech, he stated that we should not detain citizens without a court trial. In addition, he called for the government to prosecute terrorists in domestic courts and end indefinite detention. Just a little over a year earlier to that, he stated that he was not in favor of closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Senator Paul stated he is “simply arguing that people, particularly American citizens in the United States, not be sent to a foreign prison without due process.” Paul’s nativist stance on how America should deal with terrorists was also something he would continue.
Ending foreign aid
Senator Paul published a budget for fiscal year 2012 that he is still trying to back away from, today. The budget was radical for many of its notions. The portion of the budget that got most of the attention was his proposal to end all foreign aid, including foreign aid to Israel. In the budget plan, he wrote, “while this budget proposal does eliminate foreign aid to Israel, it is not meant to hurt, negate, or single out one of America’s most important allies. This proposal eliminates all foreign aid to all countries. Israel’s ability to conduct foreign policy, regain economic dominance, and support itself without the heavy hand of U.S. interests and polices, will only strengthen the Israeli community.” He gave several interviews, including one with Wolf Blizter, Jonathan Karl, and Dave Weigel saying that he cut the foreign aid to Israel and all foreign aid. In his interview with Dave Weigel, Paul was upset with people reading his budget proposal saying, “people emphasize too much the cuts to one particular country. We had $500 billion of cuts. The cuts to that one particular country were three-fifths of 1 percent of it.” Left unsaid by Senator Paul is that cutting all foreign aid would represent about 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget. In 2009, the United States spent $44.9 billion in foreign aid out of total government spending of $3.52 trillion. After a few months of criticism, Paul replaced his budget with a new one. The section on Israel is omitted. In addition, instead of cutting all foreign aid, foreign aid would be frozen at $5 billion. This budget was the same budget that he introduced to the Senate. Roughly three years later, in August of 2014, when a reporter asked him about ending foreign aid to Israel, he said the following:
“I haven’t really proposed that in the past. We’ve never had a legislative proposal to do that. You can mistake my position, but then I’ll answer the question. That has not been a position – a legislative position- we have introduced to phase out or get rid or get rid of Israel’s aid. That’s the answer to that question. Israel has always been a strong ally of ours and I appreciate that. I voted just this week to give money-more money- to the Iron dome, so don’t mischaracterize my position on Israel.” Again, we see how Senator Paul responds to criticism.
While promoting his budget, Senator Paul stated that public opinion was on his side. According to the Pew Research Center, cutting foreign aid has plurality support from 2009-2013. In 2011, 45% of Americans thought we should decrease funding to aid to the world’s needy, compared to 21% who thought we should increase it. This is largely because Americans constantly overestimate how much spending goes to foreign aid. The Kaiser Family Foundation, in November of 2013, found that 62%of Americans thought that we spend too much money on foreign aid. The poll found that, on average, Americans thought that 28% of the budget goes to foreign aid. Once respondents were informed that spending on foreign aid accounted for 1% of the budget, the amount of people who thought it was too much was almost cut in half and those who thought it was too little doubled.
In February of 2013, Paul had written to John Brennan requesting additional information on the Obama administration’s belief of drone strikes on U.S. soil. Attorney General Eric Holder wrote a letter back, dated March 4, 2013, to the Senator stating the administration has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and “has no intention of doing so.” Further, Holder dismissed Paul’s questioning as entirely hypothetical and unlikely to occur. Holder finally admits that there are extraordinary circumstances where the President would have no choice to authorize the military strike. The examples Holder gave was Pearl Harbor and the September 11 attacks. Soon after he received the letter, Paul issued a press release stating that Holder has not ruled out drone strikes on American soil, calling it an “affront [to] the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans.”
On March 6th, hours before Paul’s filibuster began, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on oversight for the Department of Justice. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) began a line of questioning on Holder to clarify the position of the administration on drones. The line of questioning led to a question that was intended to ask, does the Constitution allow the United States to to use a drone to kill a United states Citizen, even one who is a suspected terrorist, while he is sitting at a cafe and not an imminent threat. After a lengthy back and forth, Holder finally stated that no, the Constitution does not allow it. Senator Cruz seemed pleased with this remark stating, in his usual grace, “after much gymnastics, I am very glad to hear that it is the opinion of the Department of Justice that it would be unconstitutional to kill a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil if that individual did not pose an imminent threat.”
Soon after that, Paul’s filibuster began. He criticized the letter issuing a blanket statement that “there is the use of lethal force that can always be repelled. If our country is attacked, the President has the right to defend and protect the country. Nobody questions that. Nobody questions if planes are flying towards the twin towers whether they can be repulsed by the military. Nobody questions whether a terrorist with a rocket launcher or a grenade launcher is attacking us, whether they can be repelled.” Senator Cruz and Senator Mike Lee both asked Senator Paul if he was aware of the Senate Judiciary hearing earlier and the response Holder had given. He said that he was and that he was not satisfied as Holder had not said that it was unconstitutional but just responding to Cruz’s question. Senator Paul received a letter from Holder later stating simply that the president does not have authority to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil. Again, nothing about constitutionality. Nevertheless, Senator declared victory stating that he finally received the answer to the question he asked.
Paul drew distinction between Holder’s responses, despite saying almost the exact same thing as Holder did, in his letter to Paul. During the filibuster, Paul stated, “I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone without first being charged with a crime, without first being found guilty by a court.” That statement is not quite correct. As Senator Paul pointed out in his filibuster multiple times, that there should be an imminent threat standard. Paul was critical of the Obama administration not wanting to debate the 5th Amendment, saying “if we’re going to do something, so dramatic as to no longer have the 5th Amendment apply in the United States, to have no accusation, to have no rest, jury trials for folks that are to be killed in the United States, it’s such a dramatic change that you would think we would want to have a full airing of a debate over this.” During the 4th hour of the filibuster, Paul stated bluntly, “I’m aware of no legal precedent for taking the life of an American without the 5th Amendment or due process.”
On April 22, 2013, Senator Paul appeared on Neil Cavuto’s Fox Business Network Program. You can watch the video at this link, so you don’t think I’m taking the Senator’s words out of context. “I never argued against any technology, when you have an imminent threat, an active crime going on. If someone comes out of the liquor store,with a weapon in $50 in cash. I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him.” Police officers are only authorized to use deadly force if a suspect is an imminent threat to the life of an officer or the people nearby. This should be concerning to the 2nd Amendment supporters and gun rights activists who believe that the Obama administration will take away their guns. Senator Paul seems to believe that someone with a gun is an imminent threat and can be killed by a drone, onsite. Sensing the contradictory nature of his words on Cavuto’s program and his filibuster, Paul issued a press release: “Armed drones should not be used in normal crime situations. They may only be considered in extraordinary, lethal situations where there is an ongoing imminent threat. I described that scenario previously during my Senate filibuster.” The scenario if you missed it was the 9/11 attacks or Pearl Harbor, essentially. The same exact thing Holder said. Senator Paul and his office said that it was unfair to single out one specific quote from his filibuster to show his hypocrisy. Apparently, they were fine when they argued semantics about the Obama administration’s position on drones.
Senator Paul’s legislative actions to stop drone strikes was to write a bill that would prevent drone strikes on American citizens on American soil unless it was an extraordinary circumstance. No bills were written to prevent drone strikes that are currently taking place.
It was after Rand’s filibuster that the media began to really fall in love with him. Fox News described him, incorrectly, to the left of Barack Obama on drones. Many political commentators were enthusiastic about Senator Paul and his stand against the arbitrary executive. Very few media publications were willing to state that Senator Paul had the same position on drone strikes that he was filibustering. The filibuster did not criticize the Iraqi war or the neoconservative hawkish tendencies of the Republican Party but was only a criticism of the Obama administration (for the most part) which plays well to the Republican base regardless of their tendencies to describe themselves, incorrectly, as libertarian.
The filibuster certainly had the desired effect of lifting Paul’s name in political circles. In polls taken immediately after the filibuster, Paul’s name recognition among Republican primary voters had skyrocketed. More importantly, they had skyrocketed in the positive direction. Suddenly, Paul became the voice of freedom defending everyday Americans from the tyranny of the Obama administration. His filibuster focused on a hypothetical that has no chance of occurring but paints a picture in people’s minds that they are willing to accept. It’s not hard for many opponents of the Obama administration to believe that a drone strike could be ordered on someone sitting at a café in Houston minding their own business. Of course, many of these same people believe that Obama is taking their guns and raising their taxes. Their views on what is actually happening is somewhat skewed.
The media already had problems with drone strikes and Senator Paul helped to capitalize on this. Of course, the media criticism of drone strikes was focusing on drone strikes that were happening overseas on suspected terror suspects. There was also criticism of the list that the Obama administration had that listed their terror suspects. The lack of transparency and the killing of seemingly random people overseas enraged many people including many members of the media. Of course, there was very little criticism of this from Paul but the media heard drones and wanted to report on it.
The criticism of Rand
When the media does criticize Rand Paul, it’s for reasons that really do not have to do with his own policy ideas, however toxic that they can be. He was criticized for having a close aide and co-author of a book who was a pro-secessionist radio host and neo-confederate activist. Rand’s father, Ron published a racist newsletter and the casual association between the elder Paul and racism was waved away by libertarian writers, including Reason magazine editor, Nick Gillespie. Jonathan Chait, a writer for the New York Daily News notes that the association between the Pauls and racism should not discredit their ideas but that “white supremacy is a much more important historical constituency for anti-government ideas than libertarians like to admit.”
Other criticism of the Senator focused on plagiarism. During a speech, he, or rather his aides, wrote a speech heavily plagiarizing from the Wikipedia entries on the movie Gattaca among other places.
When the media tries to call out the Senator on his flip-flopping of ideas or repeats the words that Paul had used in the past, the media is construed as the bad guy.
During the fiscal year 2014 budget negotiations, Senator Paul proposed an amendment that would withdraw all funding for the United Nations. Ron Paul was a frequent sponsor of a bill that would remove the United States from the United Nations. In 2011, Senator Paul sent an e-mail to his supporters fundraising based off of the U.N. Small Arms Treaty which he claimed would take your guns from you. Despite being very popular among right-wing conspiracy theorists, the treaty is not nearly that interesting nor does it claim what they claim it can do.
After Edward Snowden leaked documents about the controversial spying with the National Security Agency, Senator Paul realized what a great opportunity this was for himself. Senator Paul joined TEA Party backed Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and FreedomWorks to sue the Obama administration over the NSA metadata spying. According to one lawyer who also filed suit against the spying, the lawsuit authored by Paul, Cuccinelli, and FreedomWorks was plagiarized. The lawsuit gave Paul some credibility within the civil libertarian community. The lawsuit was the centerpiece of a number of speeches given by him, including a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference which was well-received.
Senator Paul, while campaigning, stated that he has zero tolerance for discrimination. The Senate proposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit employer discrimination based on sexual identity or orientation. While it was in committee, Senator Paul voted against the bill and voted against it again once it was brought up to the whole Senate. Perhaps this is not surprising since he does not believe that the federal government should be legislating against the employer’s wishes to discriminate. Before it went before the Senate, Senator Paul and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tried to add an amendment that would create a “national right to work law.” Right to work laws are laws that prohibit employers and workers from entering into contracts mandating union membership for any profession. This would, seemingly, contradict Paul’s position on legislating who employers can hire.
In the late summer of 2013, the Syrian conflict had intensified with a report that Bashar al Assad’s regime had used chemical weapons on the rebel fighters on August 21. At first, Senator Paul stated that we should support Assad because he had protected Christians in Syria. He argued that the military strikes would destabilize the Assad regime which would then endanger Christians in the region. Then he went on Fox News, and goshdarnit those liberals at Fox News, got Paul to say that Assad deserved death for the use of chemical weapons on civilians but that the air strikes would not be effective enough against the Assad regime.
After the 2012 presidential election, the Republican National Committee (RNC) performed an election autopsy to determine why they lost and how to prevent future losses. One of the key findings of the report was that the Republican Party needed to reach outside their traditional demographic, rich old white guys. Rand took it upon himself to show that he was the right person for the job to reach out to younger voters, Latino voters, among others.
Reaching out to Latino voters
Senator Paul was critical of immigration reform including the Gang of Eight’s immigration reform bill. In his own effort to help with immigration reform, he decided to add an amendment intended to “Secure the Vote”. His amendment would “require states to check citizenship before registering people to vote in federal elections.” According to his press release, the amendment would ensure that individuals on work visas or given a new status under the Gang of Eight’s immigration reform are not allowed to vote until they become citizens. He introduced an amendment to add onto this bill that would remove the pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Instead, his amendment would treat the immigrants as if they were in line in their home country while they are in the United States.
After the summer “crisis” of thousands of unaccompanied children crossing the border illegally, the Republican Party had a golden opportunity to show how they would reach out to Latino voters. The Republican led House of Representatives passed two bills to deal with the crisis. One of the bills focused on President Obama’s deferred action policy to not deport DREAMers. The DREAMers are young adults who were brought to America as children and have completed high school and lived in the United States for at least five years prior to the bill’s passage. To qualify for conditional status, they would need to have graduated from a two-year community college, completed two years toward a four-year degree, or have served two years in the military and after that, they can apply for permanent resident status within a specific 6 year period. Americans overwhelmingly support keeping DREAMers in the country. In the perfect way of reaching outside the demographic, Senator Paul went to Guatemala on a medical mission, accompanied by television cameras, photographers, political reporters, and two press secretaries. When asked by right-wing news site Breitbart, Paul stated that he supported the House bills and “it will go a long way to fixing the problem.” The Senator’s office confirmed that Paul supported both bills the House passed.
As we saw above, Senator Paul does not support a pathway to citizenship to those here illegally. According to the national exit poll in 2012, 77% of Latino voters believe that unauthorized immigrants working in America should be offered a chance at legal status with only 18% saying that they should be deported. The pathway to citizenship is somewhat more popular with Latino voters than it is with all voters nationwide.
Immigration reform is not the only important thing to look at when we look at appealing to Latino voters. Looking at a poll from ImpreMedia/Latino Decisions from November 6, 2012, we see how Latinos view a number of other key issues. To reduce the deficit, 42% of Latino voters believe that spending should be reduced and there should be increased taxes. Only 12% of Latino voters believe that reducing the deficit should only be done through spending cuts. 25% of Latino voters believe that the Affordable Care Act should be repealed. 61% of Latino voters believe that the Affordable Care Act should stand as law. Going further than the Affordable Care Act, two-thirds of Latino voters believe that the federal government should ensure that all people have access to health insurance. Only a quarter of Latino voters think that people should provide their own health insurance. While Paul is convinced that if he can just talk to Latino voters, he can convince them that he is right, this does not seem likely.
Reaching out to women
Since Paulism is essentially Republicanism with the added bonus of favoring marijuana legalization, it comes as no surprise that Paul is extremely pro-life. Senator Paul has twice proposed a bill that would declare that human life begins at conception; this would give fertilized eggs the same legal status as those who are born. Senator Paul stated that Congress has the power to define when human life begins under the 14th Amendment. These types of law are known as personhood laws and do their very best to make abortions illegal. This type of law and this view is not popular with any segment of the population in America, except very right-wing Republicans. A CBS News Poll released in August of 2014, found that 36% of Americans believe that abortions should be available, 34% said that they should be available under stricter limits, with only 26% of Americans stating that they should not be permitted. A CNN Poll released in February of 2014 found similar results with 27% saying abortions should always be legal, 51% saying sometimes legal, and only 20% saying that they should always be illegal.
Lest I get criticized by those on the Right, who think it’s unfair to only include abortion and birth control in the issues about women, I’ll point out a couple of quick things. Women tend to be more liberal than their male counterparts. For instance, they support same-sex marriage by a much higher margin than males. Rand Paul believes the issue of same-sex marriage should be returned to the states, although he states that he, himself, does not approve of same-sex marriage. In general, women support stricter gun control laws. They support a larger social safety net. They are also more likely to support a path to citizenship for immigration reform. All of these things, Senator Paul opposes. Women, though, are more likely to believe that marijuana should not be legal according to a CBS Poll released May 18, 2014 showing 53% of women stated that marijuana should not be legal.
Reaching out to younger voters
According to the Pew Research Center’s fantastic work on millennials, about half of millennials do not identify with either political party even though they are “the most liberal and least conservative” of the four generations that the Pew Research Center studied. 17% of millenials identify as Republicans compared to 27% identifying as Democrats. If you include those who lean towards a political party, nearly 50% of millennials identify as Democrats or lean Democratic compared to 34% for the Republican Party.
Those are just the parties; if Senator Paul will truly reach out to younger voters it will be on the issues. Over two-thirds (68%) of millennials support same-sex marriage, which was a 24 point increase since 2004, the largest increase over the four generations. Millennials also believe in a path to citizenship to those in the country illegally. 55% of millennials support a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants compared to 25% who believe that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay and only be able to apply for permanent residency and 16% who believe that undocumented immigrants should not be allowed to stay legally. 56% of millennials believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases and 49% of millennials believe in stricter gun control. 53% of millennials believe that government should be bigger and offer more services. No other generation has majority approval for a bigger government. While millennials are skeptical of the Affordable Care Act, 42% approve compared to 54% who disapprove, 54% of millennials believe that it is the government responsibility to insure coverage for all.
Where Rand Paul actually reaches younger voters is his somewhat actual libertarian stance on the drug war. 69% of millennials support the legalization of marijuana. According to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center released in February of 2014, 39% of Americans stated that marijuana should be legal for personal use and 44% stated that it should be legal for medicinal use. To be fair to Senator Paul, he is trying to reform our criminal justice system with Senator Cory Booker. He is trying to end mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders and to focus more on treatment for those in prison for drug possession compared to punishment. Two-thirds of Americans agree that the government should focus more on providing treatment for people who use heroin and cocaine rather than prosecuting them. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of Americans believe that it is a good thing for states to move away from mandatory prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders.
An interesting politician
Part of the reason that the media and people, in general, are infatuated with Rand Paul is that he is an interesting politician. He makes interesting choices that other politicians are not willing to make. He and his aides write a lot of op-eds on anything from foreign policy objectives to the demilitarization of the police. He went to Howard University to give a talk about how the Republican Party can be inclusive (there were lots of things wrong with the speech but still an interesting choice). He went through with a formal filibuster, as opposed to the normal procedural filibuster. He is also willing to talk to the media about a number of key issues.
Senator Paul is media savvy but it does not make him a great person or someone who can change the standing of the Republican Party with a number of key demographics. While Senator Paul can communicate with the media effectively, he cannot hide his record of voting or obsession with adding amendments to bills that are likely to pass. He can make great talking point speeches about the arbitrary executive, the drug war, the rights of employers to privately discriminate, or how the Republican Party can be more inclusive but eventually he needs to follow it up with actions that actually agree with the speeches he makes.
At a certain point, media members and even those who try to convince themselves that they are libertarian will be faced with two realities. The first is that they will realize that Paul is not a libertarian but rather a Republican who has some nominally libertarian ideas. If those who believe they are libertarian still believe that Paul is their savior then go for it but they should probably re-identify as Republicans. The other reality is one that everyone must face at one point in their life. That reality is that your political view is an individualized project and it’s not easy to convince people that your political views are right because your views are not always right. For the media members this would mean that maybe Paulism is not going to take off just because you believe a politician is interesting or because the views of the politician match some supporters at arbitrary points.