Remember when Rand Paul was a “libertarian?” Sure, it was always a stretch, but he tried to carry that banner for a while. Paul’s great mission was to somehow meld traditional libertarianism with religious fundamentalism, building a new Neo-Confederate appeal. The problem with that strategy was always the libertarian part. Now Paul is dropping the pretense and kneeling at the cross of Republican Jesus.
At a prayer breakfast this week in Washington Paul abandoned his relatively friendly stance on gay marriage, calling it a “moral crisis,” but he didn’t stop there. After explaining that “religion is part of our government,” he went on to deliver this whopper:
“We need a revival in the country. We need another Great Awakening with tent revivals of thousands of people saying reform or see what’s going to happen if we don’t reform.”
For anyone who used to like Rand Paul, this must be a stomach-churning moment. As a former McCain volunteer, I can relate to your pain.
In fairness, these were not prepared remarks and they were delivered in a relatively private meeting. No one seriously thinks this represents Paul’s personal views, not even the people he was pandering to. This does not represent an official, deliberate policy flip for Paul, at least not yet. However, the fact that he could deliver that speech without vomiting in his mouth a little says a lot about him and about the emerging shape of this nominating campaign.
What you are seeing in that video snippet is the long shadow of Ted Cruz. Candidates are no longer calculating how to position themselves to beat Jeb Bush.
For the next eight months every minimally credible Republican candidate will be racing to carve out real estate in a territory Ted Cruz already owns and militantly defends. Already, this is shaping up as a contest in which Cruz faces off against umpteen other people, each of whom insist that they are just like Ted Cruz on all of the issues Republican primary voters care about. They will be forced to distinguish themselves from Cruz on matters that Republican voters do not care about, like electability, willingness to compromise, likeability, experience, and basic sanity. Every other candidate will be pretending to be what Ted Cruz has proven his is.
Get ready to hear Jeb Bush’s awkward and unconvincing conversion experience. Get ready to hear Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson explain that they are even more like Ted Cruz than Cruz himself. There isn’t a single issue on which Cruz will have to dodge and weave the way Paul just did on gay marriage and theocracy. Being Ted Cruz means never having to apologize.