Rand Paul Calls for New Populist Libertarianism

Rand Paul Calls for New Populist Libertarianism

By Toby Harnden - February 18, 2013

Republicans will need to embrace anti-Wall Street populism, champion immigration and promote lighter sentences for drug crimes, according to Senator Rand Paul, a leading Tea Party figure who is likely to run for US president in 2016.

Paul was elected in 2010 in a Republican wave that saw candidates backed by the low-tax, small-government, Tea Party swept into office. He is proposing a radical reshaping of the Republicans following last year’s stinging election defeat.

Much of the party establishment is proposing compromise with President Barack Obama and a dilution of conservative purity. But Paul — the son of Ron Paul, the maverick former Texas congressman and presidential candidate — is advocating a new political coalition and unyielding opposition to the White House’s expansion of executive power.

With his father now 77 and out of Congress, the libertarian torch has passed to the Kentucky senator, who makes no secret of his interest in running for the Republican nomination in 2016.

Asked in an interview with The Sunday Times whether he would run for president, Paul, 50, said: “It’s too early to tell but I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of the national debate and I will continue to be.

“The Republican party needs a good healthy dose of libertarianism and we also need to figure out something new, because what’s going on is not working.”

While Marco Rubio, a Florida senator, delivered the official Republican response to Obama’s State of the Union address last Tuesday — a somewhat nervous performance during which he lunged for a bottle of water when his mouth dried up — Paul was chosen to reply on behalf of the Tea Party.

Rubio, the early Republican frontrunner for 2016, has won plaudits for advocating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants — as indeed does Paul — but his address was largely traditional Republican fare, albeit expressed in a sunnier fashion and with more references to the middle class.

By contrast, Paul’s formula is a clear shift to “a less aggressive foreign policy, a little more toleration of individual characteristics, toleration of immigration and a less draconian approach to non-violent crime like drug usage”.

His father, he pointed out, came out ahead of Obama in some presidential election polling: “He beat him with an interesting dynamic — loses a third of the Republican vote, gains a third of the Democratic vote and wins the independents. So it’s a sort of third way.”

Asked if this would be the kind of coalition he could try to assemble if he ran nationally, Paul said: “I think so. You have to do something to cobble people together to find a majority.”

His father had pursued lonely ideological crusades, but the younger Paul is already earning a reputation for being a savvy Capitol Hill operator determined to craft viable legislation.

Although he is a foreign policy realist, he has made a high-profile visit to Israel and frames his opposition to neoconservativism in terms of more prudent defence spending, as well as constitutional checks on Obama’s war powers.

In the interview Paul railed against Obama “acting like a king” in ordering drone strikes and vowed to “stop the president from this arrogance that he’s going to act like executioner-in-chief and him and a bunch of his buddies with flash cards are going to determine who they’re going to kill, even on American soil”.
He wants to tap into the populism that created the Tea Party and the left-wing Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests. It was “essentially the same anger”, he said, but with the anti-wealth OWS “more ‘French revolution’ and the Tea Party more ‘American revolution’ — in the sense that we harken back to the constitution, obeying the rules”.

Paul said Mitt Romney had lost to Obama partly for not being able to connect with American populism and Republicans need to be able to “express that a bunch of rich bankers on Wall Street should not be getting bonuses on the backs of the middle class”.

Paul is adamant that Republicans have to attract not just the younger voters who flocked to his father’s campaigns but also Hispanic and black people, who overwhelmingly vote Democrat: “We need to let every Latino in America know that if you have come to this country and you are someone who wants to work and you’re not interested in being on public assistance and you want to be a hard worker . . . we’ll find a place for you.”

He was careful to present his response to Obama as complementary to that of Rubio, who also has Tea Party roots but is now the Republican party’s favourite son and as such is viewed with suspicion by some grassroots activists. But he also said “there will be differences between us over time”.

Republicans had to persuade voters that “smaller government, lower taxes and less regulation” balance budgets and that school choice benefits the poor and minorities — both largely ignored by the party.

“The first thing you have to do for work each day is put your suit and tie on and show up. I don’t think we’re showing up.” 


Toby Harnden is the Washington bureau chief of The Sunday Times. You can follow him on Twitter here.

This article originally appeared in The Sunday Times. 

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