Last year I wrote, Why Republicans Will Nominate Rand Paul in 2016. My point was not primarily that Rand Paul would actually win the Republican nomination. It was that Rand Paul would sell his libertarian soul to get the nomination. Even by the time he was elected to the Senate, he had massaged his libertarianism to be acceptable to the Republican base. My favorite contrast in this regard is with his father who was for full drug legalization. Meanwhile, Rand Paul even holds his nose while offering the most tepid support of cannabis legalization.
My prediction at that time, “So by this time next year, he will have massaged every position so that it still sounds libertarian, while still being full of conservative red meat for the base.” And then, just a month later, I wrote, Rand Paul Continues to “Evolve” His Ideology. It was about how Paul wanted to go to war with ISIS. As I noted, “I don’t see this as anything different from America’s favorite comedy duo, McCain & Graham.” Indeed, there is no difference. I think that there is no more disingenuous politician than Rand Paul. The only thing he really believes is that he should be President of the United States.
Well, there is news on Rand Paul’s evolution toward becoming the Perfect Republican™. On Thursday, Paul Waldman wrote, How Rand Paul Is Losing His Distinctiveness. This time, it is about how Paul is pushing to increase funding for the military. Let’s think about this for a moment, because it is absurd. The United States spends 48% of what the entire world spends on military. So that’s 48% for the US and 52% for the other 195 countries. Basically: the US spends as much on the military as every other country combined. And yet we cowardly Americans just don’t feel safe enough. It’s pathetic.
I don’t think for a minute that Rand Paul thinks that the military is being hurt by its cutbacks. He’s just continuing to do what he’s always done. But you have to wonder, since he doesn’t believe in anything but his right to power, why did he spend all this time pretending to be a libertarian? Part of it is what I discussed about him last year: most conservatives like to think of themselves as libertarians. In theory they are all libertarians. It is only when actual policy comes up that they decide that it is better to be able to tell people what to do.
My guess would be that there is a more personal reason why Rand Paul has pretended to be libertarian — or at least libertarianish. He needed the resources that his father’s presidential campaigns have created. Now he’s a top tier Republican and isn’t so reliant on them. Of course, this does not mean that the Ron Paul supporters will abandon him. And this goes back to what I’ve long said about real libertarians, and is even more true of the libertarianish folk in the Republican Party: it’s all about low taxes. So they won’t abandon him. And the kids who support Paul because they want legalized cannabis are going away regardless because that has become the Democratic Party position — which they get without all the conservative baggage.
Waldman noted that the Republican Party is built on four ideas: “low taxes, small government, ‘traditional’ social values, and a large military.” But he thinks this creates a dilemma for Paul. But it really doesn’t. For one thing, neither Paul nor the Republican Party are actually for small government. But that gets to how one can claim to be for small government even as they think that having 48% of the world’s military spending is just not enough. Republicans believe in certain types of spending. According to them, if we just got rid of stuff the government shouldn’t be doing (eg, healthcare, retirement), there would be plenty of money for tax cuts and increased military spending.
There is just one step that Rand Paul must take to become a big player for the Republican presidential nomination. He can’t just be for more military spending. Walking the walk is really not what Republican politics is all about. He has to be able to talk the talk. He needs to start screaming about all the threats that the United States faces. He can’t say, “I would go to Congress and ask to go to war with ISIS.” He must say, “I love America so much I would disregard the Constitution and just go to war with ISIS. And Iran! And North Korea!” He can’t just be in favor of permanent war; he has to clearly enjoy it. And I don’t think he’s going to have any problem taking this final step.