What Will Senator Rand Paul Be Like?

It looks like Rand Paul, son of Rep. Ron Paul, has won the Republican Party nomination for senate against establishment candidate Trey Grayson in Kentucky tonight. The media has declared this a “big win for the Tea Party” — because it would seem to fit the familiar one-dimensional narrative. But after months of so-called Tea Partiers jumping on the Rand Paul bandwagon, maybe it really is their night after all.

First, let’s get it straight that Rand Paul, aside from being his own man — who told me personally had been planning a future run at politics for at least 18 years — can attribute much of his early success on the political radar to the Campaign for Liberty folks — the Ron Paul-inspired libertarians who loyally promoted his candidacy, raised money and spread the word to libertarian groups and like-minded individuals across the country. It wasn’t until he declared his candidacy and Sarah Palin gave her infamous endorsement to the younger Paul that Rand started becoming a “Tea Party candidate.” Today, on the evening of his victory, it is the Tea Party, not the individual, that seems to be getting all of the attention.

Of course, Paul did little to counter that along the way, and with good reason. He had to rely on the bedrock Kentucky Republican base in a closed primary. While independents could make noise for Rand,  unless they registered GOP by the first of the year, they could not vote tonight. Paul sensed that his predominantly Republican constituency was angry at Washington, but would identify less with his libertarian views on say, war and civil liberties, than on issues of the deficit and government bailouts and “Obamacare.”  Thus, he played down his support for medical marijuana, his opposition to the Patriot Act, and most importantly, massaged his stance on the war and the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Where his father Ron has been consistently vocal about his opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Rand says he is willing to put the issue of Afghanistan up for a “national debate.” While he is wary of foreign entanglements and like his father, has talked about U.S foreign policy playing a hand in unrest abroad, he only goes so far to suggest there should be a formal declaration of war in Afghanistan — if that is what the nation wants. On Gitmo, he was lambasted for previously suggesting it should be closed, but then shifted into  hawk mode somewhere this winter, warning against unleashing “terrorists” on Main Street and calling for military tribunals for the prisoners.

Polls indicate that Paul has a good chance of becoming Kentucky’s junior senator in November. That would mean two Pauls on Capitol Hill. That should be double trouble for the congressional establishment on both sides of the aisle. Or will it be? Will he be his own man or the Tea Party’s man? Will he follow through on re-0pening a real debate on the Afghanistan War policy, or spend his time dogging the president about trying Gitmo detainees in the military tribunals, which we all know are fatally flawed? Will he shy away from war issues, or become a natural voice for limited foreign intervention?

Time will tell. We know the money will come in like a tsunami from Tea Partiers across the country now. Hopefully, he will remember who brung him to the dance.

UPDATE: It’s clear from Paul’s victory speech, that he no longer sees a difference between the revolution that began with his father’s presidential run and the Tea Party of today (though he has acknowledged publicly that he believes the vast majority in the Tea Party movement voted for John McCain, not Ron Paul in 2008). “I have a message — a message from the Tea Party. A message that is loud and clear and does not mince words. We’ve come to take our government back,” he said during his victory speech last night. I guess we can expect a lot more rhetoric criticizing President Obama for “apologizing” to socialist dictators “for America’s greatness” and for our glorious capitalist system (like he did last night) and a lot less talk about the gushing open wound that is our U.S foreign policy abroad and the erosion of our civil liberties at home (like he used to). Though he talked about the “mountain of debt devouring this country,” there was zero mention of the trillion dollar war in last night’s speech.

So my new question is, if and when Rand Paul and the Tea Party  take “the government back,” who they will give it back to?

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