What Do You Think About Rand Paul’s Calculated Political Compromises?
February 28, 2014 by Ben Bullard
No one can be elected President of the United States without compromising his ideals at various points along the pathway leading to the White House. To murmur to oneself that a President is even capable of harboring any secret idealism is, in a way, to admit a profound misunderstanding of the office. All politicians swim in dirty water.
We love and long remember leaders whose vestigial idealism lies near the surface of their public personae: John F. Kennedy. Martin Luther King Jr. Ronald Reagan. Ron Paul. Maybe even Ted Cruz — we’ll see.
What about Rand Paul (R-Ky.)? His idealism lurks very near the surface. As a Senator on the periphery of the narrowing spotlight that will soon shine brightly on the field of 2016 Presidential primary contenders, he has so far been able to persuasively come off as a guileless politician whose Congressional work hasn’t been muddled by any mixed signals sent through dissonant acts — the sort of head-scratching about-faces so often borne of political necessity.
The Tea Party is filled with moral absolutists at the grass-roots level. Many other independent-minded conservatives and libertarians, who scoff at the Tea Party appellation, nonetheless share with the Tea Party a seething anger at nominal conservative leaders who, time and again, demonstrate a congenital lack of backbone. But no candidate aspiring to national office will survive a bumpy gauntlet of fundraising, base-bolstering, margin-courting and endorsement-dealing without spilling a fair amount of idealism — however pure — from the full cup with which he started.
So the question is: how much compromise? What is necessary to succeed, to get your man in office? And where is the line that, once crossed, places principled candidates inside the alarming realm of familiar crony politics? That’s a hard boundary for any politician who’s lost the good will of his supporters to ever reconquer.
National Journal ran an interesting article Tuesday that dealt largely with how great a menace Paul is to the GOP establishment, the old party hands who are jockeying to place yokes on compliant beasts of burden to field in the 2016 Presidential primary. It’s a good read, and it suggests there’s a spot of hope for conservatives who long for a principled candidate whose ideals can’t be completely flattened by the GOP stamping machine.
Then there’s this outlier paragraph near the end:
Paul’s mutually beneficial alliance with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who faces reelection this year, is a prime example of his political foresight. McConnell has helped him build chits with the establishment, including donors skeptical of his national viability. McConnell, meanwhile, has gotten tea-party validation to get him through a contested primary against businessman Matt Bevin. He’s also benefited from Paul’s swipes at former President Clinton, who is emerging as an important surrogate for McConnell’s Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes. McConnell, if he survives the general election, could become the next majority leader. But Paul, in taming the establishment skepticism toward him, could end up with the bigger prize.
A lot of us did a double take last month when we learned that Paul had freely allowed his sterling reputation for maverick conservative idealism to be waved around by a GOP wet blanket like McConnell (R-Ky.). McConnell is in a fight to retain his Senate seat, and he’s been trying to shore up the conservative base after angering them with his voting record, his history of standing aside for Democrats, and his outright hostility toward Tea Party “bullies.”
National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar calls the Paul-McConnell alliance an example of political foresight on Paul’s part. It’s the first of what may be a great many necessary political compromises to keep Paul on track to a nomination. He may spill a little water, but a smart candidate can make the right compromises, minimize his risks and grow a diverse support network — all while keeping his most ardent supporters loyally at his side.
What do you think? Was the Paul-McConnell deal a harbinger of Paul’s ultimate cave-in, or was it an acceptable display of acumen from a leader who understands how to play politics while holding his principles dear?
If Paul or another conservative sets out to navigate a Presidential electoral season with good will from his base, how patient will his base be with him when he starts shaking a dirty hand or speaking before a tainted crowd?
For principled dark horses who rise from the conservative ranks, asking “how much compromise?” is, as always, to ask how close one can fly to the sun.