I caught up with Rand Paul at Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum convention in St. Louis over the weekend, and he was in a feisty mood. While he was there to introduce his 80-year-old mother before she accepted an award from Eagle Forum, he was primed to discuss this week’s upcoming GOP debate and Donald Trump.
“Someone has to bring him down,” he told reporters in the lounge of the St. Louis Marriott. “I’m not going to sit quietly by and let the disaster that is Donald Trump become the nominee. Do you want someone who appears to still be in grade school to be in charge of the nuclear arsenal?”
Paul later told me he thinks he has found an approach that will separate Trump from the rest of the GOP field: eminent domain. “A hallmark of Republicans is that they respect private property. But Trump runs roughshod over it,” he said. “He is a serious abuser of taking property for his private benefit.”
Paul recounted the story of Vera Coking, an elderly widow who lived in a three-story house in Atlantic City. Trump decided he wanted a “fantastic” limousine parking lot for his Trump Plaza hotel. He bought up nearby properties, but Coking declined to sell.
So Trump had a local government agency – the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) – do the dirty work of seizing her property. CRDA offered her $250,000 for the property – one-fourth of what another hotel builder had offered her a decade earlier. When Coking wouldn’t budge, CRDA went to court to seize her property under eminent domain.
Coking went to court represented by the Institute of Justice and was able to win. As the Washington Post reported this month: “In the long melodrama that is Trump’s business career, the house in Atlantic City is the place where all the billionaire’s money and all the billionaire’s men couldn’t keep a 5-foot-3 widow from whupping him.”
But Trump remains unrepentant about his used of eminent domain. After a 5 to 4 majority of the Supreme Court approved the seizure of property for the benefit of other private entities in the infamous 2005 Kelo case, Trump told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto: “I happen to agree with it 100%. if you have a person living in an area that’s not even necessarily a good area, and … government wants to build a tremendous economic development, where a lot of people are going to be put to work and … create thousands upon thousands of jobs and beautification and lots of other things, I think it happens to be good.”
But should Paul bring up the issue of eminent domain in Wednesday’s debate, don’t expect a philosophical argument from Trump. In the last few days, the billionaire has responded to Paul’s criticism of him by calling him a “lightweight,” suggesting that he shouldn’t be included in this week’s debate and comparing him unfavorably to his father, former congressman and Libertarian firebrand Ron Paul. The Kentucky senator, Trump tweeted, “didn’t get the right gene” rom his father.
Wednesday’s debate will no doubt be entertaining, even if it’s not enlightening.