DYCHE | Rand Paul: Fusion or Confusion - WDRB 41 Louisville News

DYCHE | Rand Paul: Fusion or Confusion

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By John David Dyche
WDRB Contributor

The eyes of America, or at least of those who pay attention to politics, are on Louisville today. Kentucky's junior U.S. Senator Rand Paul is making official the presidential campaign he has been informally mounting since his election in 2010.

Paul is the most credible Kentucky candidate for the country's highest office in more than half a century and perhaps since John C. Breckinridge in 1860. Part of Paul's appeal is in his unconventional views, and part of his success is in his elusiveness.

It can be hard to pin Paul down. He may not be trying to be all things to all people, but he is trying to be many things to many people.

That is not necessarily a criticism. Other candidates are also trying to expand their potential electorate. It is only prudent to do so.

But Paul's challenge is particularly difficult. He has to make his libertarian ideas seem more mainstream conservative, and sometimes must mask them altogether.

While doing so, however, Paul must not alienate his initial base of support in the tea party and liberty movements. He has to simultaneously maintain as much support as possible from his father Ron's sometimes eccentric supporters while not scaring off more traditional parts of the Republican nominating base.

Paul is trying for an electorally viable version of that long sought Holy Grail: libertarian-conservative fusion. In seeking this sweet spot, however, he risks creating confusion in voters' minds about what he really stands for.

He has been burned a few times in the process, but has gotten better along the way. His may be the best effort ever at fusing libertarian and conservative philosophies into a politically palatable mixture.

For example, he drew early criticism for leaving the impression that private business owners should be able to serve or not serve whomever they choose notwithstanding the non-discrimination provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Then, as the controversy over Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act boiled over last week, Paul was nowhere to be found.

Paul is usually ubiquitous in the media. But as almost every other prospective GOP presidential candidate was weighing-in on the Indiana furor Paul kept mum ostensibly to prepare for his presidential announcement, but more probably to stay out of the firestorm while taking time to assess how everyone else's answers played with the public.

He has likewise been somewhat slippery on national security issues. Desperate to be perceived as a prudent non-interventionist rather than a doctrinaire isolationist at a time when it seems like much of the world is exploding, Paul has tried to have it both ways.

For example, Paul says he supports the destruction of the Islamist State that is committing mass atrocities as it occupies large swaths of Iraq and Syria. Yet he does not say how he would accomplish that difficult destruction, although he has indicated that arming the Kurds would be a big part of his approach.

On issues like a nuclear deal with Iran or Russian aggression against Ukraine, many Republicans view Paul's positions as being closer to those of liberal Democratic President Barack Obama than they are to those of regular Republicans.

This is also true on issues like drone strikes and the National Security Agency's electronic eavesdropping and surveillance. Paul is probably the foremost critic of those programs, putting civil liberties ahead of national security, but a lot of Republicans are ready to surrender some of their privacy at a time of resurgent Islamic terrorism.

The Paul perspective does have a legitimate and even respected pedigree in Republican history. He has his work cut out for him, however, in explaining to Republican caucus goers and primary voters how he can be trusted to keep America safe.

Paul is keenly cognizant of his predicament. In order to make up for votes he loses in “old” Republican territory he seeks to expand his support into areas Republicans have long lost or forsaken.

He would liberalize drug laws and reform criminal sentencing. He reaches out to the young and the tech-savvy. He aggressively supports restoration of felon voting rights.

At the same time, though, Paul has made strong comments in support of traditional marriage. He has also given some obviously sincere and pretty powerful speeches about his faith and religious life to Christian and social conservative audiences.

At times Paul has demonstrated political genius, especially for publicity. At other times he has made the mistakes of a novice. Polls put him in pretty good position – not at the front, but not too far behind, as he formally declares his presidential candidacy.

Sometimes Paul does not come across as presidential. He can be too casual in dress, manner, and other ways. Although the omnipresent Obama has sometimes made the presidency seem like just another form of cheap celebrity, many Americans, and especially Republicans, still desire and expect a certain degree of dignity in the office.

Paul's determination to run for reelection to the Senate at the same time as he runs for President signals that he realizes that he may not win the nomination this time. Republicans often turn to candidates who have run before, and Paul wants to be positioned as such a person in 2020.

In the meantime, his 2016 bid is serious and could be successful. If nothing else, it is extremely interesting and important.

(John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is jddyche@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.)

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