As hard as this may be to believe, playing with chainsaws did not catapult Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) presidential campaign into the top tier. As of yesterday, however, the Republican senator has shifted his focus in a new direction – as msnbc’s Ali Vitali reported, Rand Paul wants to be Donald Trump’s nemesis.
Paul on Monday called Trump “an empty suit” and “a bully” in a conference call with reporters aimed at seizing on the growing outrage against the front-runner in the GOP presidential primary.“If no one stands up to a bully, a bully is going to keep doing what they’re doing,” Paul said. “Unless someone points out that the emperor has no clothes, they’ll continue to strut about and what we’ll end up with is a reality TV star as nominee, if we’re not careful.”
The afternoon conference call with reporters came on the heels of a piece Paul published for IJREview.com, in which the senator questioned Trump’s ideological consistency and frequent flip-flops on major issues.
On the surface, the tactical decision is pretty easy to understand. Recent national polling shows Trump’s support among Republicans at around 26%, while Rand Paul’s support is around 4%. It’s hardly shocking that the latter would try to go after the former. Indeed, it’s Primary Politics 101.
For that matter, a variety of candidates – Rick Perry, Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal – have concluded that if Trump is dominating the GOP conversation, perhaps feuding with Trump will help them raise their own visibility. The Kentucky Republican may be thinking along similar lines.
But I’m not sure Rand Paul has fully thought this one through.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with a prominent GOP candidate trying to become the Anti-Trump. He’s bombastic, so the Anti-Trump should be measured and mature. He flip-flops, so the Anti-Trump should be consistent. His entire ideology is murky, so the Anti-Trump should be clear and principled.
But if we were casting for the Anti-Trump, Rand Paul wouldn’t even get an audition.
The Republican senator has flip-flopped on all kinds of important topics. He’s a conspiracy theorist with unsettling ties to the nation’s crackpot fringe. Paul has identified several key priorities as his signature issues, none of which he understands particularly well.
It’s almost as if the guy accusing of Trump of being the emperor with no clothes neglected to notice his own nudity.
What’s more, the very idea of Rand Paul positioning himself as the arbiter for who counts as a real conservative Republican is inexplicable. Salon’s Simon Maloy explained this morning:
[It’s] something of a bold play for Rand Paul to try and play up conservative doubts about another candidate, given that he’s making his own ideologically heterodox pitch to Republican base voters and trying to convince them that he’s conservative enough to merit their approval. […]The idea animating Rand Paul’s presidential run is that he is, in his own words, “a different kind of Republican.” These differences show up in various policy positions he’s taken that conservatives won’t readily approve: cutting off foreign aid to Israel, slashing the military budget, marijuana decriminalization, and restricting government surveillance programs. He’s further complicated this already fraught dynamic by abandoning or discreetly modifying positions he’s taken in the past, insisting all the while that he’s never once changed his mind. Who is the real Rand Paul when it comes to defense spending? Is it the Rand Paul who once wanted to slash the military budget to cut overall spending, or the Rand Paul who proposed additional military spending offset by cuts to domestic programs? What would President Rand Paul do on immigration policy? That’s a difficult question to answer, given that in the five-plus years he’s been a U.S. senator, Paul has taken just about every position on immigration reform, from hardline opposition to any sort of “amnesty” to support for a path to citizenship. He is in many ways the political chameleon he accuses Trump of being.
I can appreciate the senator’s frustrations, but he’ll have to look elsewhere for the comeback trail.