Don't Believe the Rand Paul Hipster Hype
I don’t know how many Berkeleyites Rand Paul really and truly impressed last week with his visit there. If he’s the GOP nominee in 2016 and ends up with more than 23 percent of the vote in Alameda County (Mitt Romney notched 18 percent), I’ll eat my copy of The Post-Modern Aura in Moe’s bookstore window.
But it’s clear that he charmed a different group, the one that might in fact have been the real target audience of the visit: The Washington media taste-makers and “thinkfluencers” loved it. All the signs of 2016 swoonfest are clear already. This insider media group is going to build this guy up, find him “interesting” and “fresh,” and they’ll promote him over that old hecate (as they see it) Hillary Clinton in much the way they once promoted George W. Bush over Al Gore as the superior person to have a beer with.
Marvel was the dominant emotion on cable TV last week during the discussions of Paul’s excursion to lefty land. Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post effused in print Sunday about Paul’s performance, limning everything from his opposition to the surveillance state to his jeans to his hair to his accent. I forget exactly which one of those last three lent Paul a certain “stoner quality,” but it was one of them, or maybe all three of them, and in the context it was intended as high praise. Then Mike Allen gave Marcus’s column the in-crowd stamp of approval by featuring it prominently in his daily Playbook email. Allen has lately taken to referring to Marcus as Ruth “the Truth” Marcus, a moniker that surely makes the average Playbooker take her musings all the more seriously. Gee. If only my first name rhymed with integrity.
I have myself written that Paul seems a formidably clever pol and stands a very good chance of being the Republican nominee. I even think he’ll certainly make some inroads among America’s Williamsburgers (Brooklyn, not Virginia). Those who care about the surveillance issue more than anything else may well select him over Clinton, who after all is associated with these policies of the Obama administration.
But let’s put the brakes on this idea that Paul has some kind of natural and broad-based kinship with the Millennial generation. No. He doesn’t have anything close to that. In survey after survey, Millennials, on issue after issue, have views diametrically opposed to Paul’s. True, Millennials have a few libertarian impulses. But mostly, they’re something the Washington in-crowd sniffs at as passé. They’re big-government liberals.
Doubt me? Let’s cut right to the chase then. As it happens, Pew just released, in early March, a massive survey of Millennials’ political and social positions and attitudes (the pdf is here). The study compares the views of Millennials with those of gen Xers, Boomers, and Silents (as in Majority; the old folk). One question asked each group whether it supports a bigger government and more services. The overall yes response was 40 percent. The Millennials’ was 53 percent. They logged the highest favorable by 10 points.
Want more? Okay! Millennials aren’t wild about Obamacare, cuz who is. But the Pew results suggest that they mostly aren’t wild about it from the left. When asked if it’s the responsibility of the government to provide health care for all, the only group to say yes at a rate greater than 50 percent (54 percent) was Millennials.
Paul opposes same-sex marriage. So how’s he going to talk about that to voters of the generation that supports it to the tune of 68 percent. He is against marijuana legalization and even backs a bill that recently passed the House that would allow Congress to sue the president for failing to faithfully enforce federal laws. This is aimed in part at states that have legalized pot. The problem for Paul is that 69 percent of Millennials back legalization. Paul is against abortion in virtually all cases, but 56 percent of Millennials say it should be legal “in all or most cases.” And finally, Paul has been against immigration reform, and 55 percent of Millennials favor legal status and a path to citizenship (again, they’re the only group above 50 percent).
In sum, on issue after issue, Paul is not merely at odds with Millennials. He’s about eight or nine area codes away. And they just aren’t his, or the GOP’s, friends in more general terms. They’re largely irreligious. Only half even bother to say they’re patriotic. And they’re extremely racially diverse, only 57 percent white, compared to the 72 percent whiteness of the 2012 electorate. How do you think this group is going to react to those clips of Paul telling Rachel Maddow back in 2010 that (not in so many words but in essence) he would have opposed the 1964 civil rights act?
But none of this matters, you see, because it’s not new and buzzy. All of Paul’s deeply reactionary positions and statements likewise will be minimized, because he takes one or two “interesting” positions that make him “a different kind of Republican.” All right, I’ll grant that much. Compared to Mitt Romney, he’s definitely different enough to get 22 percent of the Alameda County vote instead of 18 percent. But that’s really about as far as it goes. And while Hillary Clinton hasn’t proven herself history’s greatest campaigner, one thing she and her team do know how to do is define Republican opponents. Ask Rick Lazio about that.
Paul will try to make Millennials forget about all those reactionary positions. The press will largely help him. But Clinton will remind them—and at some point, so will he. The GOP base will demand it, and the jig will be up.