There are lots of dynasties in U.S. politics, but Ron Paul may be the first politician to found an anti-government dynasty. When the Texas Republican congressman ran for president in 2008, he became a cult figure for his radically libertarian views, but seemed to have no chance of starting a long-term movement. Then came the May 18 Senate primary in Kentucky. Paul’s son Rand, head of the tax-cut lobbying group Kentucky Taxpayers United and a guy who calls his candidacy “a message from the Tea Party,” easily beat establishment favourite Trey Grayson for the Republican nomination to succeed ex-baseball pitcher Jim Bunning. One of Rand’s sons, 14-year-old Duncan, was photographed carrying a sign for him, as if preparing for his eventual succession. We’ve seen the Gores, the Kennedys, and the Bushes, but here come the Pauls to undo everything those families have done.
Like his father, Rand is a doctor, lending a certain authority to their joint calls for the repeal of President Barack Obama’s health care plan. Some aspects of Rand’s campaign are a clone of his father’s. On his website, randpaul2010.com, he declares that “America can successfully protect itself against potential terrorists without sacrificing civil liberties,” and in a Kentucky TV interview, he agreed with his dad that America should go for a more restrained foreign policy: “Maybe we’ve gone too far in one extreme that we are everywhere all the time.”
And just as George W. Bush won the second presidential term that his father couldn’t get, Rand did what Ron wasn’t able to do in 2008: beat back the GOP establishment. Grayson had the backing of Kentucky’s senior senator, Mitch McConnell, who also happens to be the Senate minority leader. But Rand didn’t need McConnell’s support when he had the endorsement of Sarah Palin, whom he called “a giant in American politics.”
Is this the start of a Paul movement? Some Republican veterans think so, particularly foreign policy hawks who dislike the Paul family’s views on the Middle East. Dick Cheney came out in favour of Grayson, while Rudy Giuliani insinuated that Rand was “part of the ‘blame America first’ crowd.” A collection of old-line conservatives calling themselves the American Future Fund took time off from bashing Democrats and spent $1 million bashing Rand instead, saying “Kentucky values are being threatened” by Rand’s belief that a nuclear Iran would not pose a security threat.
But in a dynasty, there are always differences between generations. Mindful of the fact that Kentucky is more conservative than his dad’s quirky Texas district, Rand has already adopted more conventional Tea Party Republican views on many issues. His campaign manager, David Adams, told Talking Points Memo that Rand doesn’t want to withdraw from Iraq or Afghanistan until the wars are won. And whereas Ron is a full-fledged civil libertarian, Rand blasted Obama’s plan to close Guantánamo, saying, “Foreign terrorists do not deserve the protections of our constitution.” After he won the nomination, Rand’s speech was filled with sound bites Fox News loved, including his statement that Obama “apologizes for America’s greatness”—something that’s often been said about his father. When Rand did express his libertarian beliefs, it was to argue that the Civil Rights Act erred in outlawing discrimination by private businesses, setting off a media firestorm, which he blamed on the “liberal establishment.” In other words, now that Ron Paul has succeeded in starting a dynasty, it might just be a dynasty of regular Republicans: libertarian on taxes and race, conservative on everything else.