Rand Paul: The most interesting man in the Senate

The dead-enders of the Beltway left, however, continued to treat Paul like a mental patient. “By nominating a lunatic,” Center for American Politics blogger Matthew Yglesias wrote after Paul’s primary victory, “Republicans have suddenly taken what should be a hopeless Senate race and turned it into something Democrats can win. At the same time, by nominating a lunatic, Republicans have suddenly raised the odds that a lunatic will represent Kentucky in the United States Senate.” Nor was this sentiment confined to the left. “Rand Paul’s victory in the Kentucky Republican primary is obviously a depressing event for those who support strong national defense and rational conservative politics,” former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum wrote at the time. “How is it that the GOP has lost its antibodies against a candidate like Rand Paul?”

Paul parries these attacks with a bemused but direct engagement; you can see he thinks he’s going to win a long-overdue David vs. Goliath argument. A good portion of his book is spent examining and decrying how the Republican Party became “tainted by neoconservative ideology,” mistaking “national greatness” for a willingness to intervene willy-nilly into the affairs of foreign countries, while tolerating big spending projects at home. “The Tea Party,” Paul claims, “is now a threat to the old Republican guard precisely because its stated principles prevent it from being brought into the neoconservative fold.”

As a minority radical in a minority Republican Senate caucus, in addition to being the most successful Tea Party–branded politician in the country, Paul is engaged in a dual-track education experiment: trying desperately to move the 50-yard line of the national conversation about government spending and debt while trying to bring some robust libertarianism into a decentralized Tea Party movement that has mostly agreed not to talk about foreign policy. Paul repeatedly states in The Tea Party Goes to Washington that this new grassroots uprising will reject neoconservative or Wilsonian foreign policy adventurism, but these are assertions long on faith and short on facts. There has always been a kind of uneasy embrace between hardcore Ron Paul supporters and the more nationalistic types who flock to Tea Party events; Rand Paul’s challenge is to bridge that gap.