Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. speaks to reporters in front of federal court in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014.
Charles Dharapak/AP

Rand Paul crosses the Reagan/Carter line

A couple of weeks ago, David Corn had a fascinating report on a speech Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) delivered in 2009 – the year before his election – in which he condemned Dick Cheney’s foreign policy views in unusually strong terms. In fact, Paul seemed to come fairly close to accusing the former Vice President of a corruption on a massive scale, suggesting Cheney used 9/11 as an excuse to invade Iraq in order to boost Halliburton profits.
It led to some speculation about whether comments like these would ruin Paul’s national ambitions, but they didn’t necessarily seem like an automatic deal breaker. After all, it’s hardly a secret that the senator rejects the neoconservative worldview. In a Republican primary, Cheney bashing won’t help, but one can imagine an adept candidate overcoming this.
David Corn’s new scoop, however, might be more of a problem.
…Paul hasn’t always cast himself as much of a Reagan fan. In fact, when he stumped for his father in 2008 and again when ran for Senate in 2010, Paul often referred to the grand old man of the GOP with a touch of disappointment and criticism. And he routinely made an assertion that might seem like blasphemy to many Republicans: President Jimmy Carter had a better record on fiscal discipline than Reagan.
In a variety of campaign appearances that were captured on video, Paul repeatedly compared Reagan unfavorably to Carter on one of Paul’s top policy priorities: government spending.
It’s not hard to imagine Republican presidential candidates turning some of these clips into attack ads.
It’s worth emphasizing, in case details like these make a difference, that Paul’s criticism of Reagan’s fiscal record happened to be accurate. The budget deficits were smaller under Carter than Reagan. Federal spending grew slower under Carter than Reagan, too.
But to put it mildly, Republicans don’t want to hear any of this, and they tend to be thoroughly unhappy when anyone compares Reagan unfavorably to Carter, even when the analysis is true.
Indeed, it might make for a slightly awkward moment in, say, a debate for GOP presidential candidates when the audience is reminded that one of the candidates condemned Dick Cheney and said Carter was preferable to Reagan when it came to fiscal responsibility.
In fairness, if you watch the video, you’ll notice that Rand Paul made these comments in 2007, 2008, and 2009 – the three years preceding his successful U.S. Senate campaign in Kentucky. As best as I can tell, he hasn’t used similar rhetoric since.
Nevertheless, the recordings obviously exist and now they’re being brought to the public’s attention. Perhaps the senator can claim comments that pre-date his Senate career don’t count – a youthful indiscretion at age 46? – but it seems like a tough sell.
After Corn’s piece ran, Paul’s office issued a statement to Mother Jones, noting, “I have always been and continue to be a great supporter of Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts and the millions of jobs they created.”
I could note at this point that, on a per-year basis, the United States actually created more jobs under Carter than Reagan. I could also note that job growth under Reagan didn’t actually increase until after Reagan raised taxes.
But I have a hunch Republicans wouldn’t want to hear these details, either.