March 20, 2013

Plan Rand

Fresh off a 13-hour filibuster, which he more or less used as the foundation of his successful CPAC speech, Rand Paul is now the Republican Savior-of-the-Month, a man with the ideas, youthful appeal -- and the “inside game” his father, Dr. No, lacked -- that could help the Grand Old Party take back the White House. 

My former mates at Politico breathlessly declare that Rand has the muscle to defeat all comers in the 2016 GOP presidential primary death match, including former Saviors-of-the-Month Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. And he’s got the combination, they gush, that appeals to young and old Republicans as well as moderates, qualities that could send Hillary Clinton shuffling back to Chappaqua four years from now.  

Take it to the bank. Bet the farm, your bottom dollar, the last dime, or your last money, as Don Cornelius would say. It’s all gonna be a stone gas, honey.  

Oh, wait.  Forgot about this thing right here.  Not to mention this other thing, that could be slightly problematic for a few voters. Also, this.

Paul’s rather extreme positions on abortion probably could also be a bit of a turn-off, shall we say, for even some Republican women, not to mention most mainstream American voters -- the kind that preferred President Obama to Mitt Romney, whose governing record was slightly to the left of Paul’s but who nevertheless jacked the wheel hard to the right to win the nomination, digging a tiger trap for himself in the process. 

And we haven’t even started talking about this.  I’ve said it before: nothing makes white voters more uncomfortable than a candidate without the good sense to keep those views behind closed doors or use code words in public. 

All this pseudo-excitement about Paul pretty much walks right by the red flags Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus waved at the party Monday. 

When it comes to national elections, Priebus warned, Republicans need to modify their “messaging” on the policies they hate but the country likes: abortion rights, gay marriage, global warming, entitlement spending, immigration, voting rights and taxing the rich. GOP candidates, Priebus said, should beware the conservative media echo chamber, and kick the habit of kneeling at the altar of Ronald Reagan, who left office in an Alzheimer’s fog 25 years ago and has been dead for nearly a decade. 

(While we’re on the subject, this needs to be said: Saint Gipper was a center-right Republican who raised taxes, favored gun control, cut budget deals with Democrats, withdrew troops after a terrorist attack in Lebanon and walked past the Constitution with a technically illegal war in Grenada and a ham-fisted arms-for-hostages deal with Iran, a sworn U.S. enemy. Not to mention his administration begat Don Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and a host of other arrogant neocons who bamboozled us into invading Iraq.  But why spoil a good conservative myth with actual facts?) 

Priebus' "autopsy" completely ignores the GOP content, however. He may advocate "reaching out" to minorities, gays and the young, but if the past election is any indication that outreach feels more like a dope-slap. 

That was pretty evident at CPAC, where the crowd sat on its hands and nodded thoughtfully when keynote speakers talked about recruiting black and Latino voters, but exploded in applause when those same speakers said Republicans will win again by sticking to "core conservative values."  That means -- say it with me -- traditional marriage, shrinking government, nuts to immigration amnesty, no abortion under any circumstances, "drill, baby, drill." Only this time, they said, we conservatives need to turn the volume up to 11.  

NRA President Wayne LaPierre brought that into sharp relief with a speech that was the conservative equivalent of a crowd-pleasing, 15-minute drum solo at a classic rock concert. His unhinged, defensive, somewhat paranoid remarks boiled down to, "they're coming to take your guns, so we need more guns!" 

Big picture: none of this -- Paul infatuation or Priebus' Cassandra imitation -- really matters.  For the GOP, however the White House is the now-elusive Holy Grail, the One Ring of Mordor, the Belmont Stakes to their Preakness (state governments) and Kentucky Derby (House gerrymandering) wins.  Winning the presidency will help cement legislative and Supreme Court power, and the fact that they lost to the black guy (twice!) is driving them completely crazy. 

So a Republican rebranding is all anyone can talk about, and the brand of the moment is Paul.  

At the CPAC red-meat feeding frenzy last weekend, Senator Paul himself seemed to acknowledge that the party is stuck in the past, declaring it “stale and moss-covered,” deathly in need of new ideas -- like marijuana decriminalization, letting shaky banks go under and shouting at voters in Chicago’s notorious South Side, presumably in person. 

But then he did a whiplash pivot and played the GOP hits.

He threw a bouquet of roses at Reagan (peace and blessings be upon his name), condemned wasteful government spending and bashed Obama and the sequester, to enthusiastic applause. The only thing missing: waving lighters held aloft and shouts of “Free Bird!” from the audience. 

The warm reception, coupled with ubiquitous “Stand with Rand” stickers and T-shirts that spread through CPAC like a virus, and the audience standing in solidarity throughout Paul’s speech, was enough to convince the likes of Politico and others that Paul is the latest guy to be seen as party’s future -- even though Paul has shown he’s keeping at least one foot inextricably planted in the GOP’s past.  

Take a scroll through Paul’s Twitter timeline, and it looks more like two feet.  With at least one of them stuck in his mouth.
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