Disclaimer: This article is not meant to be an endorsement of any proposal or candidate. The author, Matt McDaniel, is a candidate for Baltimore City Council. This piece is meant as analysis and may or may not reflect Mr. McDaniel’s personal views on any topic discussed.
Let’s face it, Senator Rand Paul is in trouble.
I know, I am a bit late to the game in talking about the Junior Senator from Kentucky’s lagging poll numbers, campaign scandals, low fundraising, and general apparent unconcerned approach to the campaign. However, part of me thought that he was going to turn the campaign around. He still might. He finally got some play attacking Donald Trump in the opening salvo of the Republican debate, but some of us just saw that for what it was: trying to get airtime inside the Trump bubble.
With Rand Paul, we were promised a different type of Republican. He was supposed to be the best libertarian parts of his father, Representative Ron Paul, without the “cookiness.” One of Ron Paul’s biggest failings was his inability to get away from the conspiracy fringe of his image. When 9/11-truthers or Stormfront racists make proposals to you, you are not supposed to nod thoughtfully, you throw them out the door and fire the security staff that let them in. The former Congressman Paul was also dogged with strange product and company endorsements he made and ghostwritten pamphlets. Rand Paul was supposed to cut the nonsense, and present a unified GOP-libertarian message.
But something strange happened on the way to the campaign. If Rand Paul wants to have a shot, here’s what he needs to do.
TAKE A PRINCIPLED NON-INTERVENTIONIST STANCE
Most Americans supported Rand Paul’s efforts over drone strikes on American citizens without trial and the Senator’s attempt to end bulk collection of data by the NSA. It was a powerful message. Overnight, Rand Paul became the leader of a new group of Republicans: the ones who thought that the PATRIOT Act went too far and that successive administrations had been violating individual liberty. It was a bipartisan call and it was easily understandable. It started to break through the culture of fear and big government.
Now, it should be noted at the time of the Cotton Letter, there was no official Iran Deal on the table. [I wrote a piece earlier about my misgivings as to the geopolitical consequences of a pivot by the West towards Persian hegemony in the Middle East and my opposition to the Deal, but we are talking about Rand Paul, not me.] There was no reason for Rand Paul to sign that letter.
The numbers don’t look good for opponents of the Deal to kill it. They have the numbers to get the opposition to the President’s desk, but not the support to overturn the veto [the President would need 1/3+1 of either the House or the Senate]. To that end, Rand Paul should endorse the deal. It’s odd to read that sentence, but it would be something that, immediately, sets Rand Paul at the center of the national debate. It also completely deflates the Democratic nominee (likely Hillary) on the issue.
Here’s the rhetoric to use: “While I have severe misgivings about the deal, bringing Iran to the table was in the interest of peace. I have seen that the deal will survive the veto. I pledge that I, as President, would do what so many of us have misgivings about: verify that Iran is making good on its promises. Iran needs to grow its economy, but they also need to know that America stands with Israel against terrorism. As President, I will ensure that if we see money flowing in to terrorist organizations, the deal that is benefiting Iran’s economy is done. Hopefully we can work together in peace, but I will not be naive.”
While this will anger the base, it will reassert Rand Paul’s libertarian bona fides and put him squarely in line with the American people who support the Iran deal (but doubt its long-term effectiveness). It will also be a major play to reach across the aisle in the general election and attract crossover voters.
SUPPORT A MESSAGE OF LEGALIZATION
The majority of Americans, though not the majority of Republicans, support the legalization of marijuana. This would be an important crossover step to attack the War on Drugs without the explicit declaration that the “War on Drugs is lost.” It will also integrate nicely with Senator Paul’s messages on criminal justice reform.
While the majority of Republicans, and people over 65, would not support the message, and would likely criticize Paul’s supporters (like they did his father’s), the changing demographics on the issue are readily apparent. It would benefit Paul in the general election to take an economics-based approach to the multi-billion dollar marijuana industry and move to end prohibition.
UNEQUIVOCALLY SUPPORT SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
Following Obergefell v. Hodges, same-sex marriage (or, “marriage”) is the law of the land. This has not stopped Republican candidates for President from routinely attacking and criticizing the Court and the gay and lesbian community. These views are well-outside the American mainstream.
Let’s be clear: Rand Paul’s message that the government shouldn’t be in the marriage game is the right message… if this were 1996. The issue has evolved over the last 20 years and it is time to embrace equality. Paul should be pushing the fact that Republicans would lower taxes on gay families and promote economic opportunity.
Rand Paul is not, and never was going to be, the Evangelical nominee for President. Those voters and their money are tied to other candidates. It is not like Rand Paul’s poll numbers will dive if he embraces a long-wrongly-maligned subset of the population. It would also significantly blunt future Democratic nominee arguments that the Republicans are out of touch with the modern American’s viewpoints.
EMBRACE CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
Rand Paul is already the leading voice on the right pushing for reforms of sentencing and a justice system that, by the numbers, disproportionately affects men of color. Senator Paul does not claim to have the answer, but the fact that he is attempting to engage a community that has long had a frosty relationship with Republicans is the correct idea.
However, in the wake of the Baltimore Riots, Senator Paul joked that he was thankful that his “train didn’t stop” in Baltimore and offered some nonsensical “lack of fathers” reasoning for the violence. This offhand remark showed a possible degree of hypocrisy on the part of the man who penned an op-ed for Time after Ferguson calling for a demilitarization of the police.
The Rand Paul who embraced reforming the criminal justice system and was listening to the populations disproportionately affected is the type of image Paul needs to embrace. It isn’t Paul’s role to be talking, but rather to be listening to what needs to be done. This does not mean that Paul should embrace all/any of the suggestions, but when Hillary Clinton is barring the doors to keep Black Lives Matter protesters out, Rand Paul needs to be learning and putting forward ideas that can start to, really, address the problems that many communities in America are facing.
The foregoing are a few examples of what Senator Rand Paul could do to position himself as a truly uniting figure in American politics. Embracing a small-government mindset while also moving forward with the country on other issues could help to heal many of the fractures in the political system today.
If you think that the ideas presented here would not help Senator Paul win the nomination, may I remind you that, week-after-week, his numbers are collapsing and his fundraising is terrible. It’s time for Senator Paul to embrace the messages he had championed in the Senate before his decision to run for President.