Some Republican presidential candidates are avoiding attacking front-runner Donald Trump. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky isn’t one of them.
During an interview in Haiti with NBC News’ Chris Jansing on Wednesday, Paul — who has been pulling in single-digit support in GOP primary polls — accused the billionaire real estate mogul of being a “fake conservative” and expressed concern that Americans are being distracted by his celebrity.
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Paul agreed that Trump has tapped into anti-Washington sentiment, anger that helped propel the senator to the national stage. But Paul worked to set himself apart from Trump, saying there is little substance behind his rival's rhetoric.
“Really, I’ve likened it to ‘the emperor has no clothes,’” Paul said. “He’s saying things that are completely vapid, things that are completely vulgar and completely non-sequitur ... There’s no way the voters in the country will nominate him. Absolutely not.”
Unlike most of the GOP competition attending the Iowa State Fair — seen as a must-attend for candidates who want a leg up in the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses — Paul was in Haiti to perform free eye surgeries.
Paul seemingly compared Trump to media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister who was engulfed in sex scandals and allegations of corruption during his time in office.
“For two months, the Trump mania has been soaking up votes from a lot of candidates. And I guess my fear for the country is ... that there are countries that do succumb to celebrity,” Paul told Jansing. “Italy had a celebrity. You know, there are other countries that have had and elected celebrities. Often in the developing world, celebrities and ... very wealthy people will win. And I worry about the country, because I don't believe that there's any sincerity to what the message is.”
Recent polls show Trump leading in the early voting states of New Hampshire and Iowa —despite fielding criticism for his big GOP debate clash earlier this month with Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly over how he talks about women, controversial remarks about undocumented immigrants and questioning Arizona Sen. John McCain’s status as a war hero.
During the interview, Paul also accused Trump of flipping his position on Obamacare and the bank bailout, in addition to being being a onetime fan of Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. “Conservatives have to decide if he's a fake conservative or not. And I think truly he is a fake conservative, because he's been on every side of every issue in the last five years,” Paul said.
The two, however, may overlap on at least one issue: birthright citizenship. Trump in an immigration policy paper called for the U.S. to end granting automatic citizenship to children born in the United States. Similarly, in 2011, Paul introduced an amendment that would have curtailed birthright citizenship.
On Friday, Paul was asked if he was in favor of ending birthright citizenship. Paul said, “What I would say is: If you have an open border, you can’t have birthright citizenship.”
Despite his campaign’s failure to garner much support for his candidacy, Paul insisted he didn’t need to do anything differently when he returns to the U.S. to give himself a real shot at winning the nomination. The senator is scheduled to embark on a West Coast tour next week.
“I think I do exactly the same thing I’ve been doing and a lot of things people don’t realize about this race is it’s state by state," said Paul.