The Iowa caucuses are still 284 days away, but Republicans now have a second candidate for President, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Labeling himself a conservative, Paul is primarily known as being the son of former Congressman Ron Paul, an ardent libertarian with a history of making many controversial statements and endorsements. Sen. Paul has retained many of his father’s followers, but it seems that Sen. Paul has also tried to distance himself from the elder Paul. It’s become a delicate balancing act for Sen. Paul, as he has to grow his base by appealing to more traditional conservatives while still appeasing the libertarian minority.
There’s very little doubt as to where Ron Paul stands on the issues. He’s blamed the U.S. as the reason for the attacks on September 11, 2001. He stated that he would not have ordered the raid to kill Osama Bin Laden. He’s also advocated the legalization of prostitution and heroin. To top things off, he’s been known to mingle with neo-Confederates, even going so far as to praise the candidacy of David Duke. Ron Paul the father may not be the candidate this time around, but Rand Paul the son is, and many are asking, does the apple fall far from the tree?
To be fair, not every son follows in their father’s footsteps (unless you’re a Bush), and, on paper, Sen. Rand Paul’s positions on his presidential campaign website are quite conservative. But every now and then, a shimmer of the elder Paul has shown up in the younger. In 2013, Sen. Paul’s neo-Confederate ties came to light when it was revealed that Jack Hunter, one of Paul’s aides and co-author of Paul’s book “The Tea Party Goes to Washington”, was a secessionist who sympathized with John Wilkes Booth’s assassination of Lincoln. Sen. Paul has also taken unusual steps to ensure continued libertarian support, such as making numerous appearances on Infowars with Alex Jones, a renowned 9/11 and Moon Landing conspiracy theorist. He reached out even further just two months ago by opposing mandatory vaccinations because of “normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines“. He later had to backtrack and tweeted a picture of himself receiving a booster vaccine. He also embraced a libertarian stance on immigration during last year’s immigration reform debate, calling for legal status of illegal aliens already in the country and voting rights “that everybody wants” for them “someday.”
But, it’s not just Sen. Paul’s attempts to remain in a positive light with libertarians that’s raised eyebrows. He’s also openly bucked against the GOP’s conservative base by siding with GOP establishment leaders and Democrats. In the 2014 Kentucky GOP primary, Sen. Paul announced an early endorsement of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell instead of a Tea Party challenger. In 2013, he essentially admitted defeat over Obamacare saying, “we can’t probably defeat or get rid of Obamacare”, and suggested “we make it less bad.” Despite more and more states adopting Voter ID laws, Sen. Paul voiced “mixed feelings” about the issue and suggested combining the issue with restoring voting rights for felons. On the foreign policy side of politics, Sen. Paul was caught on tape in 2007 saying Iran desires nuclear weapons because it “feels threatened.” More recently, he sided with President Obama by opposing new sanctions against Iran during the nuclear power negotiations and dismissed the idea of a containment strategy of a nuclear Iran. Finally, Sen. Paul took a stance against U.S. aid to Israel, but later claimed he never said such a thing. Politifact listed that as “Pants On Fire“.
With the many conflicting statements combined with the backtracking and clarifying, you would think Sen. Paul’s name would be Mitt Romney, Jr. Even yesterday in his announcement speech, Sen. Paul said he had a “message that is loud and clear and does not mince words”, but hours later had to clarify a statement made in the same speech where he accidentally proposed legalizing murder. As with Romney in 2012, Sen. Paul is going to have to overcome the image of being inconsistent and flaky. Unfortunately, he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place. If he begins talking tough on Iran and the border or pushes harder for term limits, his libertarian activist support will shrivel, but, if he continues to tout ideas similar to his father, he will be seen as too tendentious and volatile for the rest of the GOP. He is not in an envious position to say the least.