By Richard Cohen, Published: April 14
Not to put too fine a point on it, but what has Rand Paul ever done? Oh, sure, he’s a member of the U.S. Senate, but only a freshman, and it’s the only political office he has held. He’s an ophthalmologist, a father, a husband and the son of Ron Paul, who used to run for president. So now it is son Rand who is doing so. Aside from family tradition, the question is why?
Last month, Paul won the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll with 31 percent of the vote. Second in the hearts of conservatives that day was Sen. Ted Cruz, yet another right-wing darling whose record is unblemished by significant achievement. He, too, is a Senate freshman and by virtue of inexperience feels he knows so much more than his colleagues.
At the moment Paul has the momentum. He just appeared at the Freedom Summit in Manchester, N.H., where, according to The Post, he generated the most excitement. Cruz also attended the event, as did Mike Huckabee (back from the politically dead), Donald Trump, running or not running for the umpteenth time, and Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who may or may not be seeking the White House.
Either way, the result will be the same. All this might seem something of a joke. Blackburn is probably not a household name on her own block. Huckabee has failed before and will undoubtedly fail again. Trump would probably prefer to run for president than actually be one. But it is Paul who commands attention. A fair number of Republicans are drawn to his putative candidacy on the basis, it seems, of what he opposes — big government, the Federal Reserve, foreign aid, federal education programs and, of course, abortion — more than anything he has done.
If you compare Paul to Republican presidential nominees of yesteryear, you can get an idea of just how far the GOP has sunk. Mitt Romney was the governor of Massachusetts and a very successful businessman. John McCain is a long-serving senator and war hero. George W. Bush was twice elected governor of Texas; Bob Dole had been Senate majority leader; George H.W. Bush had been just about everything; and Ronald Reagan was governor of California for two terms.
Obviously, experience does not in itself predict a successful presidency — one can hardly do worse than the younger Bush — but inexperience all but guarantees trouble. Barack Obama’s missteps in both foreign and domestic policy — the Obamacare rollout debacle and the Syrian fiasco — were undoubtedly a consequence of inexperience. Especially in foreign policy, where decisions can be made instantly and without advance congressional approval, experience matters greatly.
My doubts about Paul, while based somewhat on his bizarre positions, are really grounded in a fear of the amateur. I expressed similar reservations about Elizabeth Warren, who seemingly moments after being elected a senator from Massachusetts was being mentioned by fellow left-wing Democrats as a presidential candidate. Warren had the good sense to take herself out of contention.
The plight of the Republican Party is now — so to speak — playing on Broadway. I am speaking of the late Lorraine Hansberry’s still-powerful “A Raisin in the Sun,” this time around with Denzel Washington heading up a remarkable cast. What you need to know is that Hansberry was raised in a Republican household. That was once hardly remarkable — many African Americans owed allegiance to the party of Abraham Lincoln. Franklin D. Roosevelt wooed them, and over time Republicans abandoned them. The GOP became hostile to civil rights.
Hansberry, who drifted toward radicalism, was also active in the lesbian movement. The Republican Party has done for homosexual rights what it did to civil rights. It has become the voice of recalcitrance, smoothly transitioning from opposing one form of civil rights to another. I will spare you the cliche about being on the wrong side of history, but you get the idea. Throw in anti-immigrant sentiment, opposition to increasing the minimum wage, seeming resistance to all things feminist — and you have a political party with very little to say to moderates. The GOP always sounds like a crank.
Little wonder then that its presidential candidates range from the callow to the comedic. (I exempt Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush from this group.) Rand Paul is in the former category — a gaggle of ideas untethered to practicality or practical experience. He remains a voice in the wilderness. He should stay there.
By Dan Balz Chief correspondent July 31 at 3:43 PM
Republicans may yet win the elections in November. They may end up in control of both houses of Congress come January. But in the final week before a lengthy August recess, they have shown a remarkable capacity to complicate their path to victory.
The latest blow came Thursday in what has become predictable fashion: chaos in the House. Amid fractious infighting, House leaders abruptly pulled their alternative to President Obama’s bill to deal with the influx of children on the border. What was said to be a national crisis turned into one more problem facing deferral.
But there was more over the week that could contribute to the deteriorated brand called the Republican Party. On Wednesday, the House voted to sue the president, an action which may cheer the party’s conservative wing but which also may appear to other voters as a distraction at a time of major domestic and international problems.
In the background this week was talk of impeachment. Republicans rightly suggest that the White House and Democrats are doing all they can to stoke discussion of the topic as a way to raise money and motivate their base. But it is a topic that has bubbled up from the conservative grass-roots of the GOP and that now bedevils Republican leaders.
Fundamentals in this election year continue to favor the Republicans. Obama’s approval rating is low and stagnant. There isn’t much on the immediate horizon that is likely to change that, given the state of the world. The economy is getting better, but many voters aren’t convinced of that yet. The Senate map favors Republicans, who need a net of six seats to gain control of that chamber.
This isn’t 2010 all over again by any means: The unrest is more muted. But looking toward November, you would rather be in the Republicans’ position now than the Democrats’. Standing in the GOP’s path to victory, however, are perceptions of the party itself, nationally and in some of the states. How much self-inflicted damage is too much?
The tea party gives the Republicans energy, but it continues to push the party further to the right than some strategists believe is safe ground. In a number of states, strategists for the GOP say tea party positions are outside the mainstream, even the conservative mainstream.
Republicans are asking for the right to govern, to control the legislative machinery starting in 2015. But they continue to struggle with that very responsibility in the one chamber the control. How many times have Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and his top lieutenants suffered similar embarrassments as support for leadership measures suddenly eroded in the face of a conservative revolt?
Republicans have been repeatedly criticized for failing to offer a governing agenda if they take power. What happened Thursday underscores why that’s been so difficult. Getting the party’s factions on the same page has proven more than difficult. In some states where Republicans control the governorship and the legislature, there has been a backlash to their governing agenda. Kansas and North Carolina are two prime examples.
In Congress, Republicans have spent four years attacking the Affordable Care Act with a series of votes to repeal or defund it. But is there a Republican alternative they are collectively promoting this fall? No. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor on Thursday that he is working on one — but said it is just one of a number of GOP ideas on health care.
House GOP leaders say Democrats are hypocritical to blame them for the gridlock and chaos. They point to a series of bills approved with Democratic support that are parked in the Senate with no action. They say Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) should let senators vote on them. But by their own high-voltage missteps, they draw attention away from that and onto themselves. They manage to reinforce a narrative that remains not in their favor.
The immigration issue offered a fresh example of the conundrum for Republicans. The border crisis presented Obama with a serious problem — substantively and politically. He offered his own plan for $3.7 billion in spending, which was too high-priced for the GOP. Their alternative called for $659 million in spending.
But at the center was an issue of power. Republicans see Obama as an out-of-control executive who has exceeded his constitutional authority and they want to take him to court (though ironically for doing something with the Affordable Care Act, delaying the employer mandate, which they favor).
The issue of executive power extends to immigration. With comprehensive immigration reform locked down in the House and heading nowhere this year, Obama’s administration is exploring what he can do through his executive powers to accomplish some of what immigration reform legislation would do, including possibly allowing some of the adults here illegally not to face deportation.
Many House Republicans want to stop him. Some also wanted to force him to roll back what he did in 2012, when he allowed children who came into the United States illegally with their parents to stay here without immediate threat of deportation. All of that contributed to the collapse of the border bill.
Ironically, it also prompted a call from at least one powerful Republican for Obama to act on his own.
“I think this will put a lot more pressure on the president to act,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) told reporters on Capitol Hill. “In many ways, it was his actions and inactions that caused the crisis on the border, and we attempted in this bill to help remedy this crisis. He has the authority and power to solve the problem forthwith.”
Obama ridiculed the House for wanting to sue him. “They’re mad because I’m doing my job,” he told an audience in Kansas City on Wednesday.
That’s a large overstatement by the president, but Republicans have handed him the argument to make through their own actions and inactions.
Republicans have five weeks outside of Washington to let things settle after Thursday’s breakdown. They will have time to regroup and try to put this moment behind them. Obama and the Democrats are still on the defensive in the battle for control in these midterm elections. But Republicans would do better if they found a way to stop hurting themselves.
Don’t bet on the Republicans