DYCHE | Do the right thing, Rand - WDRB 41 Louisville News

DYCHE | Do the right thing, Rand

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John David Dyche John David Dyche

By John David Dyche
WDRB Contributor

Let’s be honest: Nobody still believes U.S. Senator Rand Paul can win the Republican presidential nomination. 

Paul either should get out of the presidential race right now and focus on winning reelection to the Senate, or forsake a Senate bid so Republicans can run a full-time candidate focused on retaining that important seat. 

The Senate was always just a means to a presidential end for Paul. His focus and rhetoric have been more presidential than congressional since he burst on Kentucky’s political scene in 2009.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with that. The current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was a first-term senator when elected president.

For a while it looked like Paul might have a viable pathway to the presidency. His libertarian non-interventionism, publicity-grabbing filibusters, and efforts to expand the GOP’s appeal to new groups won him attention and some praise.

Paul emerged unscathed from gaffes and unflattering revelations that would have doomed other politicians. Some smart people pondered whether Paul was a political prodigy.

His presidential announcement was well done. Early polls were encouraging, especially those pitting him against presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

But a funny thing happened on Paul’s way to the White House. The man TIME magazine not long ago called the most interesting in politics became a lot less so. 

Paul lost his mojo in a political "Deflategate." The buzz about him disappeared as quickly as it had come.

It is hard to pinpoint the precise cause. The rise of ISIS and renewed concern about terrorism reminded some potential Paul supporters that there are more important things in life than the absolute privacy of their phone records.

Paul tried to be all things to all people, such as by saying he would destroy ISIS and proclaiming himself a Reagan conservative. This disappointed some of his father's dovish followers and national security Republicans did not believe him anyway.

During the debate on renewal of Patriot Act provisions for bulk collection of metadata Paul overplayed his hand. His claims that Republican hawks created ISIS and that some hoped for another terrorist attack so they could blame him were way over the top.

Paul hoped his tax plan would win attention in the increasingly crowded Republican presidential field. It didn’t, even when he tried pathetically desperate and un-presidential stunts like cutting into the current tax code with a chain saw.

When the first fundraising totals were released, Paul’s were profoundly disappointing. He experienced an embarrassing shrinkage of his poll numbers as other candidates encroached on territory he had staked out as a "different kind of Republican" running against Washington. 

The debut of the Donald Trump Show starred an even more radically different kind of Republican (if he is, in fact, a Republican at all) with lots more money. It quickly earned higher ratings than Paul in the key GOP demographics.

Rival Republican senator Ted Cruz of Texas attacked Mitch McConnell as the personification of the despicable "Washington Cartel." Paul could not parry that thrust since he had made common cause with McConnell to the utter dismay of many Tea Party firebrands who were once faithful supporters.

Paul attacked Trump at the first Republican presidential debate. It did not work, and polls panned Paul’s performance.

He continued the attack post-debate, but Trump again got the best of him, even revealing that he had beaten Paul in golf before donating money to an eye center with which the Kentuckian is connected. 

Things got worse. People running Paul’s super PAC, including his longtime friend and family member by marriage, Jesse Benton, were indicted for allegedly buying an endorsement for Ron Paul in Iowa during the 2012 presidential campaign. 

Next came a series of media stories calling into question Paul’s plan to have Kentucky Republicans hold presidential caucuses instead of a primary as a way of solving the problem presented by a state law banning a person from being on the same ballot for two offices. Paul recently made a down payment on his promise to pay for the caucuses, but that has not allayed all grumblings in the ranks about the plan.

Trump has said what some Kentucky Republicans are thinking. "The people of Kentucky should get a senator that wants to represent them, not a senator where it's a backup plan."

It is unlikely that Paul will draw a serious Republican primary challenge. A more realistic prospect is losing the Senate seat, and perhaps with it the Senate majority, to the Democratic Party.

No Democrat has won for Senate in Kentucky since the late Wendell Ford in 1992, but no Democrat has been able to run to the right of a Republican on national security or to accuse the Republican of being focused on another office. This time the Democrat can do both.

Paul's pride may prevent him from abandoning his presidential bid before any actual voting takes place. Yet pride also goeth before a fall.

So come on home, Rand. If you really want to be a senator, start working hard to save your seat. You can play powerbroker with your endorsement in the presidential race and maybe even start planning for another one in 2020 when you will not also be up for reelection. 

Otherwise, play out the presidential string, but forget the caucuses and open up the field for other GOP Senate options right now. Republicans in Kentucky and across the country will respect you for doing the right thing.   

(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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