I spent some time yesterday with Rand Paul, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Kentucky and the son of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul. He dropped by National Review for a long interview with the editors and then did an event in the evening at Webster Hall in New York. I found him surprisingly impressive. A few thoughts:
1. Rand Paul cares about the national debt. It’s his No. 1 issue. It’s also his No. 2 issue and his No. 3 issue.
2. Rand Paul is willing to go after his fellow Republicans on spending: “They didn’t balance the budget a single year when they were in power,” he complains. “We have to cut taxes—but we also have to cut spending.” Music to Exchequer’s ears.
3. Rand Paul is a committed vote to repeal Obamacare.
4. Rand Paul said the Five Magic Words: “Nothing Is Off The Table” when it comes to cutting government spending. No hedging, no hemming and hawing. You want to get serious about putting Leviathan back in his box, Rand Paul is your kind of guy. Of all the office-seekers and politicians I’ve spoken with in the past two years, Paul is easily the most confidence-inspiring when it comes to the question of debt and deficits.
5. Rand Paul is not Ron Paul. Paul fils may not appreciate my saying so, but this is a very good thing. Ron Paul has a unique talent for taking very good ideas and extending them to the point of absurdity. Ron Paul is the kind of libertarian who makes libertarians wish they weren’t libertarians. Rand Paul is not that kind of guy.
6. Rand Paul is not Sharron Angle. Whereas Angle comes off as the emotionally charged crusader, Paul’s style is a little bit detached and ironic, his humor self-deprecating. He has a strong command of the issues and presents his case persuasively. The paint-’em-all-as-kooks strategy is going to be hard for Democrats to pull off against him.
7. Rand Paul has strongly libertarian leanings, but he is much more of a traditional conservative than is his father and the movement associated with him. He prefers to call himself a “constitutional conservative.” He’s not shy about talking about abortion or immigration. His views on national security, Iraq, and the Patriot Act are not Rich Lowry’s or Andy McCarthy’s, but they’re reasonable.
8. Rand Paul got a rock star’s welcome at Webster Hall. Not a huge crowd, maybe a couple of hundred people — almost all of them under 40, I noticed — but that’s a pretty good showing for a week night, in Manhattan, for a Republican from Kentucky. (The oldsters with the money were at a separate event, with Steve Forbes.)
9. Rand Paul knows he blew that Rachel Maddow interview, big time. He totally owns up to it, says he knew that they had it in for him going into the interview but overestimated his own ability to shine through the media fog. “I was feeling my oats,” he says, sheepishly, and then shakes his head. Unspoken conclusion: That was stupid. He is understandably a little media-shy now.
10. Rand Paul is winning the fund-raising race. Paul raised $1.1 million in the last quarter. His opponent raised $1.4 million, but $400,000 of that is a personal loan—from himself. The polls are neck-and-neck, Cook Political Report calls it a tie, but the fact that the other guy is dipping into his own bank account is a good sign for Paul, given that the other guy is not named Mike Bloomberg.
For those of us whose top issue is the debt, Paul is pretty refreshing. From my perspective, there are really two things going on here: One is the question of whether Republicans retake one or both houses of Congress in the next couple of elections. The other question—and, in some ways, the more important one—is: What is the character of that (potentially) emerging Republican majority? The GOP is really at an ideological crossroads, and it’s not clear whether the future of the party looks more like Mitt Romney or Rand Paul. The reality is that the case for small government is not being made most effectively by Rand Paul, the tea parties, or by pundits and activists: It’s being made by a worldwide financial meltdown, followed by a worldwide recession, followed by a series of sovereign-debt crises. For Rand Paul, the times are on his side.
– Kevin D. Williamson is deputy managing editor of National Review.