“We blew it.”
—Wyatt (Peter Fonda) in “Easy Rider”
I thought Rand Paul was positioned to do well at the beginning of his campaign. But his poor performance in last Thursday’s debate underlined that his campaign long ago blew it. Further evidence is several Tweets by him Monday attacking Donald Trump for not pledging to endorse whatever GOP candidate gets nominated—even though Rand’s father, Ron, actually did refuse to back previous nominees John “Bombs Away” McCain and Mitt “Romneycare” Romney.
Here are the reasons Rand’s campaign never caught fire, and could not have.
First, he missed the opportunity to advance the most important issue of this campaign: ending the policy of open borders on immigration. As I have written on this Chronicles blog for 14 months now, immigration is the issue of the 2016 campaign. If Rand had taken a strong stand against it early, such as in January, he would have set the tone for the whole campaign. In that scenario, if Trump had come along and done so as well, he would have been considered a “me too” candidate. Instead, of course, Trump intuited the main issue (or did his research) and saw the issue needed for him to race ahead.
Taking an early stance against immigration also would have given Rand the issue he needed to distance himself from his father—yet ironically, with enough finesse Rand still could have done so by keeping faith with the libertarian base his father bequeathed to him. Immigration is the one issue on which Ron flip-flopped. His son has flip-flopped, too.
But Rand could have taken a page from top libertarian theorist Hans-Herman Hoppe, a protégé of Murray Rothbard, who has written against open immigration from an anarcho-capitalist perspective.
Second, Rand Paul blew foreign policy by moving toward the Neocons and foreign intervention. This really did offend his father’s supporters, while gaining nothing but scorn from the Neocons. I don’t believe, once in office, he actually would continue the recent hyper-interventionism. Why would anyone else believe that? In office, he could say, “It turns out, we just don’t have money for such interventions. Let the Europeans handle it.”
Third, Rand’s tax-cut plan is a mess. Like so many tax plans since, it’s a riff on Pat Buchanan’s 1996 flat-tax proposal. Except Rand’s scheme turns out to be a Value-Added Tax, which has been the bane of Europe. It’s also complicated. Why can’t some candidate just come out, as Reagan did in 1980, for a 33 percent across-the-board tax cut and leave at that? (In office, Reagan settled for 25 percent – close enough for government work.)
Fourth, Rand blew his debate mano-a-mano with Chris Christie over surveillance. This is Rand’s signature issue, and he certainly is right that the Bush-Obama spying on all of us is an outrage against our freedoms. Christie boasted using the misnamed USA Patriot Act in federal prosecutions, called for giving “more tools . . . not fewer” to the snoops. Rand responded, “The Fourth Amendment is what we fought the Revolution over. . . . You fundamentally misunderstand the Bill of Rights.” But he should have quipped something like, “I see Gov. Christie is getting his interpretation of the Fourth Amendment from former Stasi agents.”
Too bad. On the positive side, Rand has a lot of experience running his own campaign now and can avoid this year’s mistakes for a 2020 bid to unseat President Hillary. Assuming we still have elections.
John C. Seiler, Jr., writes from California.