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August 19, 2014 2:45 PM Rand Paul’s Trick

By Ed Kilgore

Mike Gerson pulls off a nice two-cushion shot in a WaPo column on GOP minority outreach. First off, he spanks reformicons for their big-emphasis on middle-class voters, arguably at the expense of po’ folks:

They consistently pitch their approach toward the middle class — in part to distinguish it from previous iterations of compassionate or “bleeding heart” (Kemp’s phrase) conservatism. The cover of the reform-conservative manifesto — “Room to Grow: Conservative Reforms for a Limited Government and a Thriving Middle Class” — features a lawn mower on fresh-cut grass. The conservative rebirth will evidently spring from suburban yards on a lazy Saturday morning….
A party that does not forthrightly address the largest source of division in U.S. history and American life — now dramatized in the tear gas haze of Ferguson, Mo. — is not morally or intellectually serious. And even as a political matter, women voters, Catholic voters and younger voters would prefer a chief executive who seeks the interests of all Americans, including those unlikely to vote for him or her. A commitment to national unity is an indicator of public character. The Kemp project has never been more urgent for Republicans.

So Gerson should be pleased by Rand Paul, with his particular focus on African-American outreach, right? No, no so much. He considers Paul’s ability to come up with selective libertarianish positions that sound attractive to non-government-haters a “trick.”

Paul has risen to prominence by employing a political trick, which is already growing old. He emphasizes the sliver of his libertarianism that gets nods of agreement (say, rolling back police excesses) while ignoring the immense, discrediting baggage of his ideology (say, discomfort with federal civil rights law or belief in a minimal state incapable of addressing poverty and stalled mobility).
As a senator, this tactic has worked. But were Paul to become the GOP presidential nominee, the media infatuation would end, and any Democratic opponent would have a field day with Paul’s disturbing history and cramped ideology. On racial issues, the GOP needs a successor to Kemp — and an alternative to Paul.

Get used to these sort of attacks if Paul’s viability grows. At some point, of course, they would vanish altogether if the man gets close to the GOP nomination.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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