Rand Paul Takes on the Machine

By Rachel Alexander Published on April 8, 2015

On Tuesday, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul announced he was officially entering the Republican primary race for president. He is the second candidate to announce after Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. His speech was full of Reaganesque declarations, practically declaring a war on Washington, D.C. “We have come to take our country back,” he said. “The Washington machine that gobbles up our freedoms and invades every nook and cranny of our lives must be stopped.”

Sharing many of the libertarian views of his father Ron Paul, in a softer form, Paul represents for many the libertarian wing of the GOP. While some of his libertarianish views, particularly on foreign policy and social issues, may be at odds with many Republicans, some of his other positions, especially on economics, appear to resonate well with the base, as does his reputation for being willing and able to swim against the tide of expanding government.

His stand against the National Security Agency’s spying on Americans has particularly endeared him to small government conservatives. During his announcement speech, he declared, “As president, on Day 1, I will immediately end this unconstitutional surveillance.”

Although a US Senator, Paul has angled himself as an outsider taking on the establishment. Tuesday he unveiled his campaign slogan, “Defeat the Washington machine. Unleash the American Dream.” Bringing together libertarians, Tea Party activists and constitutionalists, he has built a sizable coalition of support across the right, which he refers to as the “leave-us-the-hell- alone coalition.”

So far, Paul has largely sidestepped the controversy surrounding Indiana’s new religious freedom legislation. During the initial flareup, Paul was reportedly on vacation. However, the Pulse 2016, a project of American Principles in Action, rated Paul an F on the Indiana controversy, noting that he told some pastors that “it was up to them to cause a great awakening since he would have no help for them in Washington.”

Paul, it should be noted, wasn’t the only potential GOP presidential candidate who received a low score. Scott Walker received an F, Rick Perry and Chris Christie received Ds and Carly Fiorina a C+.

Between the Hawks and the Dove

What may hurt Paul the most with rank-and-file Republicans is his non-interventionist leanings on foreign policy. ISIS and Iran have put foreign policy back in the forefront for many voters, and Paul has taken the least aggressive position toward ISIS of all the likely GOP presidential candidates.

He has backed away from some of the more dovish positions of his father Ron Paul since he became a Senator, and now he calls for increasing the defense budget instead of decreasing it, although not by as much as the Congressional Budget Office recommends.

Similarly, while in June 2014 he questioned the value of engaging in war against ISIS — “Why should we choose a side, and if we do, who are we really helping?” — by September, his position had changed to where he was saying we need to “destroy” ISIS.

In his announcement speech Tuesday, he declared, “The enemy is radical Islam. You can’t get around it.” And his comments replete with references to Reagan’s foreign policy, emphasizing the idea of peace through strength. But it probably will take more than a few sound bites to convince GOP voters he has genuinely changed his mind and is not merely flip-flopping to attract hawkish conservatives in the primary.

Rand against the Machine

Paul is considered a bit of a long shot by some, but one way his candidacy could gain legs is if the other candidates split the moderate and more traditional Republican conservative votes, leaving the libertarian wing to him. Additionally, he appeals to youth in a way that most of the other candidates don’t, probably because the younger generation of Republicans leans libertarian. As an ophthalmologist who only delved into politics in 2011 to become a Senator, he has an outsider, neighborly appeal.

There is some concern that as the Anglo percentage of the population decreases, Republicans may need a candidate who has the dual appeal of attracting minorities. It has been calculated that the Republicans will need 30 percent of the minority vote to win the presidency.

Finally, Paul may be running as an outsider, but he may need insider cash to get the nomination. Will a candidate who has declared war on “the Washington machine” be able to get that machine to cough up enough coin to keep his own American dream rolling? Time will tell.

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