Senator Rand Paul rose to national prominence in March of 2013 during his 13-hour filibuster against the nomination of John Brennan to run the CIA. It showed fortitude, principles, and a strong bladder in the face of Brennan’s belief that it was okay for the federal government to target and kill American citizens with drones.
At that point, he had many in the Republican Party willing to “stand with Rand.” However, now he’s standing to run for the Republican nomination for president. Many of his erstwhile allies aren’t so sure that’s a good idea.
Having principles is great, but elected officials have to use them to move the political needle. That involves compromise. Paul voted against a bill proposed by Senator Ted Cruz to limit the National Security Agency’s ability to spy on Americans. It failed in part because Paul refused to support it. Because he believes it did not go far enough, the NSA is still allowed to carry on with business as usual.
That’s the part of the problem with Rand Paul. He has proven that he believes in compromising rhetorically, when it comes to broadening his appeal, but not when it comes to crafting legislation.
During his brief tenure, Washington D.C. has produces three basic types of legislation: bills containing the Democrats’ ideas, bills with Republicans’ ideas, and scattered legislation reflecting Rand Paul’s ever-shifting notions.
Take climate change, an issue that Rand Paul has compromised his opinion on to appeal to a larger base. He voted in the affirmative that human activity is responsible for climate change but voted no on a bill that stated human activity is significantly responsible.
Paul said to Bill Maher that he was in favor of limited regulation against climate change but voted against a resolution, one that does not create any new law, stating Congress had the non-binding “responsibility” to cut pollution.
Similarly on immigration, in July 2010, his campaign website stated, “Paul does not support amnesty. Those who come here should respect our laws.” In 2013, he sang a different tune, endorsing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants saying, “If you wish to live and work in America, then we will find a place for you.”
Just one week later on Fox News Sunday he stated his plan called for legalization but not citizenship. And then just last June he said citizenship is a “longer, more difficult goal.”
Before he was a Senator, Rand Paul said a fence on the border reminded him of “the Berlin Wall.” However, in his 2013 border bill that was rejected by the Senate, he called for a double-layered fence.
It’s understandable that someone grows over the time they are in office, but there is a big difference between growing and… whatever it is that Paul is doing. On defense, Rand Paul supported cutting defense spending for years, until ISIS changed public opinion on intervention in the Middle East. After that, he supported raising spending by $190 billion.
And again on voter I.D. laws, in May 2014, he said that his party’s push for voter I.D. was “completely crazy” and “offending people” — namely African Americans. By November, he stated how he was in favor of voter I.D. laws, just not as a campaign theme.
The voter I.D. dodge raises the question: So what is he going to campaign on? His record? It’s not extensive. Paul has served less than a full term in the Senate and has been considering a run for president for at least half that time. He’s been valuable as a conversation starter about some things Republicans really do need to start rethinking.
Yet other than on certain issues such as abortion and drones, Paul’s positions have been constantly in flux. The way he feels on Monday on an issue may be much different from how he feels about it when he “further explains” on Friday.
This has given his boosters many different versions of the man to root for. But Republican primary voters are going to have to decide who they think Rand Paul really is. That’s going to be a problem.