By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
I wrote yesterday that Rand Paul may be a modern Barry Goldwater, someone so wedded to his philosophy that he either doesn't realize that his views reside well outside of the main stream of American political thought or doesn't realize that voters aren't just one explanation away from seeing the libertarian light. The more I think about Paul, though, the less I think this is the case.
Instead, I am starting to think that his problems stem in part from the fact that he does know that his philosophy is rooted in the political fringe, and can't figure out a balance between being truthful about his beliefs and actually getting elected.
I think Jonathan Chait is right in identifying one Paul problem:
... Rand is wildly evasive. He's not attempting to explain his ideology while falling victim to a sound-bite press corps. He's desperately trying to deny his ideology. Paul explicitly believes, or at least believed, that the 1964 Civil Rights Act erred in forbidding private discrimination. But he simply changed the subject over and over to avoid explaining this belief, before finally abandoning it altogether without acknowledging that he ever held it. Likewise, he evaded a question about whether he supports the minimum wage. He seems to be attempting to run a stealth candidacy.
This explains his decision to blow off Meet the Press, which was actually smart because not matter how much negative publicity he's getting for skipping the show it's a fraction of what he'd have gotten had he actually gone ahead with the interview. "Rand did Good Morning America today, set the record straight, and now we are done talking about it," said campaign spokesman Jesse Benton. "No more national interviews on the topic."
The topic in question was the Civil Rights Act, but his campaign no doubt realized that it's only the tip of the inquisitorial iceberg. The newest Washington parlor game is coming up with wacky questions to ask Rand Paul about his worldview. ("Does the federal government have the constitutional power to pass child labor laws?") Paul could have gone on MtP under the ground rule that civil rights would never be mentioned and he would still come off looking either evasive or unelectable.
His problem isn't that he doesn't realize he's in the fringe, it's that he does. His other problem, as I noted yesterday, is that he can't skate by on the fringe in the same manner that his father, Rep. Ron Paul, does. Congressman Paul is an eccentric House member. Dr. Paul is the face of a national political movement (the Tea Party), which means that he's going to be scrutinized (or should be) a lot more closely than his dad.