05.23.10

How Rand Paul Blew It

Almost instantly after becoming the Tea Party’s next great hope, the Kentucky Senate nominee imploded on the national stage. Meghan McCain on why Paul is a cautionary tale for Republicans.

I’ve been intrigued by Ron Paul and his so-called revolution ever since the Texas renegade began making waves on the presidential trail in 2008—and his supporters began crashing nearly every major Republican event since he dropped out of that race. I can’t help but interpret the congressman’s cult-like, libertarian-leaning following as yet another indicator of a growing resentment of all people incumbent and in power in Washington.

Paul’s nomination could have been a moment of triumph for the Tea Party movement, as well as for Republicans—but instead, it was an embarrassment.

So, almost by default, my fascination spills over to his son Rand Paul and his recent Senate primary race in Kentucky. Last week, the younger Paul claimed the state’s Republican nomination—thanks, in large part, to vast Tea Party support. Yet less than 48 hours later, he (now infamously) declared on The Rachel Maddow Show that, while he’s against racism and prejudice, he essentially believes that any business owner has a right not to serve a person because of his or her race, and that he would have voted against the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

To me, what’s most significant about this series of events is how quickly Paul—the Tea Party movement’s first truly notable candidate, both in name and national prominence—imploded on the national stage.

When someone runs for office, essentially, all he or she must do is answer questions about what he or she believes and why these beliefs will best serve the country. Yet anyone watching Paul’s interview with Maddow could see that he was unable to do that. Worse, he managed to confuse voters further about just where his libertarian ideals stand, raising new questions about his extreme libertarian view of how our country should be governed.

Mark McKinnon: Rand Paul’s Rookie MistakePaul’s nomination could have been a moment of triumph for the Tea Party movement, as well as for Republicans, but instead it was an embarrassment. And I felt the disappointment firsthand, given that I agree with and support numerous things the Tea Party represents. Like many Americans, I’m angered by the intense spending going on under the Obama administration. But when the movement was given the opportunity to present specific solutions and answer real questions, its leaders nominated someone who—yet again—revealed weird, racist undertones, no matter how he wants to spin it.

I respect Paul’s ideological commitment to libertarianism, of which it’s quite obvious he’s a die-hard supporter, even if there are reasons there’s no real libertarian senator. And I, too, believe that the government should stay out of people’s lives as much as possible. Yet Paul seems to be taking these beliefs to an extreme, one that’s making even fellow Republicans uneasy.

With the midterm elections fast approaching, and the 2012 elections around the corner, let’s hope Paul isn’t a canary in the coal mine, if you will, for Republicans, but a cautionary tale. The lesson is clear: If we don’t nominate formidable candidates with wider appeal and a broader message, our party is dead in the water.

Yes, Rand Paul could just be an anomaly; the next Tea Party candidate who rises to national prominence could be the answer to the movement’s prayers. Yet I believe that Paul offers a lens into the Tea Party’s broader problems. While anger over the way the country is run is valid, when it comes to specifics—and to direct, clear solutions—things fall apart.

Paul’s role within the Republican Party (if any) has yet to be determined. But one thing I am sure of is that, until we start nominating candidates who have more realistic views of the complex world we live in and stop seeing things strictly in black and white (no pun intended), we are going to continue losing elections and becoming punch lines for late-night talk-show hosts.

Meghan McCain is a columnist for The Daily Beast. Originally from Phoenix, she graduated from Columbia University in 2007. She is a New York Times bestselling children's author, previously wrote for Newsweek magazine, and created the website mccainblogette.com.