27 May 2015

Meet Rand Paul: the Republican Underdog


With seven candidates now declared, two expected to declare within the month, and a further eight formally exploring a candidacy, the Republican Presidential field is beginning to look pretty crowded. Of course, the sheer volume of candidates considering running is unprecedented – the current 17 is twice as many as at this stage in any previous GOP campaign – but what makes this race so unusual, is that there is no true front runner.

The latest national polling figures published by Public Policy Polling on May 21st put the most popular candidate, Scott Walker, at just 18%, with Marco Rubio (15%), Mike Huckabee (13%), Ted Cruz (10%), Ben Carson (10%), Jeb Bush (10%), and Rand Paul (5%) all hot on his heels. Although Mr Paul’s ratings have dropped this month, within this cluster of favourites support ebbs and flows with astounding fluidity – so, let us take a closer look at this man who in 18 months could just be president.


Foreign Policy

Foreign policy is now dominating the Republican Presidential race. With other candidates staying on safe ground at this early stage, Mr Paul stands out for his hard-line anti-interventionist views. He believes that the United States should only go to war when “America is attacked or threatened”, and therefore supports military action against ISIS, but condemns the interventions in Iraq and Libya, which he argues paved the way for later Jihadi violence. In an interview with Politico last week, Mr Paul highlighted the clarity of his own position in comparison with his rival Jeb Bush, whom he criticised for giving “an incredibly fumbled answer” to the question of Iraq.

Yet despite his professed transparency, Mr Paul has received criticism from some quarters for vagueness. In a 22 minute speech in Yorktown last month, he skirted around foreign policy, speaking on the subject for just five minutes. This apparent evasion has led some to suggest that his ‘aggressive line’ is actually constituted of little more than slogans, and conceals unformulated foreign policies lacking in substance: although he often repeats that “radical Islam” must be fought, he is yet to spell out how, where, or at what cost.


On the issue of immigration, Mr Paul is adamant that the first step should be securing the borders. Once this is done, and it is possible to say who is coming and who is going, he advocates granting a work status to the 11 million legal immigrants of the US. With the baby boom generation retiring, experts argue that the U.S is calling out for this kind of reform which would rejuvenate the American workforce with skilled young people. He favours immigration reform over amnesty, but voted against the latest bill on the grounds that it limited the number of legal work visas. Essentially, he believes that more legal immigration is the best solution to the ever growing problem of illegal immigration.


Whereas his father was a libertarian to the core and called for abolition of the Federal Reserve, a freeze on the money stock, and a return to gold standard, Paul Junior presents himself as more of a conservative deal maker: he wants to cut the tax code, but replace it with a 17% flat tax. As a senator, Paul has always voted against policies that don’t quickly eliminate deficit spending, unafraid to pitch himself against Paul Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee who’s widely considered the party’s expert on budgets and taxation. Paul’s alternative budget proposed annual cuts which would impact the departments of housing, Education and Urban Development, amongst others but would balance the budget and dramatically decrease the deficit.

Why he may win

In this diverse field of candidates, Paul is unique in that he appeals, not to a solid core, but to a motley collection of voters. Tea Party supporters are attracted to his small-government, fiscal conservatism, whilst many loyal libertarians have transferred their support from Paul Senior (Rand’s father Ron, who served as a Republican presidential candidate in 2012) to his son. Having spent the last year wooing college students, Paul has also, most unusually, garnered support from those who would traditionally be anti-Republican.

In an era when so many Americans seem frustrated with shallow, personality-based politics, Paul’s straight talking conservatism is drawing Millennials away from the Democrats. With the Republican vote split so many ways, this unusual coalition could just be large enough to secure him the top position.

Unlike Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz who have both received a torrent of criticism from America’s left wing media, Paul has managed to keep the press off his back by claiming he is beholden to no party. Criticising the Republicans almost as much as the Democrats, Paul’s has created a unique selling point by painting himself as the sole defender of American civil liberties. In a recent campaign speech in Kentucky, he slammed government intrusion in no uncertain terms, “what you do on your phone is none of the government’s damn business”.

As congress and the courts try and resolve the difficult question of how far the federal government may go in collection data on citizen’s private communications, Mr. Paul’s bold and unambiguous opposition to federal intrusion, “on day 1 I’d stop it all” could give him the edge amongst younger Republicans for whom “the right to be left alone” is sacred.

Why he may not

The main criticism levelled at Paul is that he is trying to be too many things to too many people. His father’s most staunch supporters believe that Paul has let them down by moving too far away from libertarianism, for example where most libertarians are pro-choice, Paul consistently votes pro-life. He also seems unable to articulate a concrete opinion on foreign aid. Although he initially proposed scrapping it altogether, he later revised this to exclude Israel – leaving both libertarians and conservative Jews feeling wary.

Furthermore, despite his attempts to entice traditional republicans through his highly conservative fiscal policies, his non-interventionist stance flirts dangerously with isolationism, leaving many eyebrows raised.

So what’s next for Rand Paul?

Although the field is crowded, there is a lot to make Paul stand out. His moderate libertarianism is proving popular amongst the young, particular in Nevada and New Hampshire, whilst his daring economic policies appeal to those further right on the spectrum. But up against candidates like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, Paul is still very much the underdog, and the question remains: is America ready for Paul’s version of Republicanism?

Olivia Utley is a writer at CapX