Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, says he has “pretty much quit answering” questions about his dad, the libertarian ex-congressman and former presidential candidate Ron Paul.
“I’ve been in the Senate three years, and I have created a record of myself,” Paul told the Daily Caller. “And I have my opinions.”
Easier said than done. The elder Paul is a factor moving forward for an array of reasons, despite the younger Paul’s frequent protestations.
For one thing, the senator has made it abundantly clear himself that he considers family associations fair game. As Slate’s Dave Weigel notes, Rand Paul’s been on a one-man campaign against President Bill Clinton in recent months in anticipation of a potential presidential run by Hillary Clinton, tellingVogue the former president’s behavior in the 1990s “should complicate his return to the White House, even as first spouse.” Expounding further on the topic on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” he acknowledged that the ex-president’s improprieties weren’t his wife’s “fault,” but added that, “sometimes it’s hard to separate one from the other.”
There’s no way to reconcile this level of scrutiny with a campaign where Rand Paul’s father is taboo.
But even if Rand Paul hadn’t created a massive opening by going after Clinton, the notion that his father’s views are off limits doesn’t hold water.
This isn’t some distant connection, after all: Rand Paul’s rapid ascent from obscure local ophthalmologist to the Senate would not have been possible without his father’s dedicated movement of activists and grassroots donors, both of whom are poised to play a major role in a Paul presidential bid. Rand Paul himself said he “couldn’t do this without his freedom movement that he started” in a joint interview with his father – why would anyone think the two are linked? – on Fox News to promote his Senate bid in 2009. The senator can’t claim all the benefits of a close working relationship with his father without inviting questions about what that relationship entails.
As Rand Paul does fairly point out, the two Pauls aren’t the same. The senator’s views on foreign policy are somewhat closer to the GOP mainstream, and he has taken care to avoid some of his father’s more fringe associations, like his think tank and its motley crew of 9/11 truthers and apologists for dictators. He hasn’t produced anything like Ron Paul’s years-long trail of racist and homophobic newsletters, which the elder Paul denies having written or approved. And unlike Ron Paul, who thinks Abraham Lincoln was a warmonger who needlessly engineered the Civil War as a power grab, Rand Paul calls the 16th president “the Great Emancipator.”
But Rand Paul didn’t seem to think any of those issues should maybe, just maybe, have made one hesitant about putting his father into the White House, either. He endorsed Paul’s presidential campaign in 2008 and again in 2012 and served as a key campaign surrogate on the trail. Given that the senator stands to inherit his father’s campaign infrastructure and endorsement and has exhibited a blind spot of his own when it comes to tolerating extremist support, it would be irresponsible not to ask for more detail on their distinctions.
The younger Paul did offer a counterexample to The Daily Caller, deflecting comparisons to his father.
“Did [George W. Bush] get tons of questions about his dad?” Paul asked. “I don’t know that he did, to tell you the truth.”
Let’s check the tape. George W. Bush was asked about his father the same day he announced he was launching an exploratory committee for his eventual presidential run in 1999. He wasn’t happy about the association, either.
“Any rival who criticizes my father makes a huge mistake,” Bush said. “He’s not the candidate, I am,”
George H.W. Bush got questions, too, as critics accused the Texas governor of benefitting from his father’s connections. The attacks grew serious enough that he talked to the Associated Press in 1998, before his son had even declared his candidacy, to deride such accusations as “groundless, untrue, and unfair to my son.”
The younger Bush overcame these attacks, which included Al Gore’s efforts to link him to “the Bush-Quayle recession” in speeches, but the issue never was out of bounds. It won’t be for Rand Paul either.