Rand Paul: Why ruin a young nonviolent drug offender's life by sending him to jail?

Via Gateway Pundit, here’s the buzziest bit from yesterday’s “Fox News Sunday” appearance. More than his civil-liberties advocacy, more than his pitch to get the government out of marriage, this call to lighten up on nonviolent drug users is, I think, the surest way to win a fresh look for the GOP from young voters and minorities in 2016. He also stands more of a chance of selling it to conservatives than he does with his marriage position, if only because he can talk up the savings inherent in fewer prosecutions and incarcerations and frame it as a budget issue. He’ll have some trouble with older voters, but even older Americans might prove a bit more understanding than they used to be. There’s also reason to believe that, if anyone can move the GOP base on this, Paul’s the guy: If you want to see how dramatically his Senate filibuster moved the numbers on Obama’s drone policy, compare the poll data from two days before the filibuster to the data today. If he wants to gain similar traction on drug sentencing, he should dress it up as a critique of Obama’s drug policy specifically. Tearing down elements of bigger government by emphasizing The One’s fondness for it is bound to soften up otherwise skeptical voters on the right.

Two things, though. First, having just dumped on Claire McCaskill for pretending to hold a position she secretly disagrees with for electoral gain, it’d be dishonest not to note the same suspicions about Paul. He says he’s not in favor of legalizing marijuana; he must be the only libertarian in America who isn’t, just like he’s the only libertarian in America who claims to want strong borders. One of his real liabilities with mainstream conservatives, I think, is the suspicion that he and his dad secretly are more or less in sync (especially on foreign policy) and that his comparative moderation would soon disappear once in office. In this particular case I hope it would, but I’d rather have a candidate shoot straight with me before I consider voting for him. Second, Paul’s core issue is, of course, reducing federal spending (he just rolled out his proposed 2014 budget), but I wonder if his unorthodox party positions on foreign policy and social issues — drug sentencing, marriage, even abortion — will lead him to be pigeonholed as a sort of libertarian culture warrior, which hurts him in 2016 if social conservatives mobilize against the centrist trend among the GOP establishment on “values” issues. With all the angst among conservatives about economic stagnation, ObamaCare, and solving the entitlements crisis, it’d be bizarre if the next presidential primary came down to a fight over culture. But maybe it’s unavoidable.