Rand Paul continues to win my admiration, I have to say. There are people who come into the Senate with a kind of celebrity status and get lots of good press—one Barack Obama comes to mind—but I can't think of anyone who has gotten so much good press through their own initiative, coming up with one clever way after another to get people to pay attention to them in ways that are almost always positive. His latest move required a subtle ideological tightrope-walk, one that Paul played perfectly. And all it took was a tweet.
This has to do, you'll be happy to know, with Ted Nugent. Republican politicians have a soft spot for Nugent, partly because they're blinded by the celebrity of a guy who 37 years ago had a song that rocketed all the way to #30 on the charts, and partly because Nugent is kind of an expression of the conservative id. I'm sure there are more than a few people on the right who would like to hold up a pair of assault rifles and say, "I was in Chicago and said, 'Hey, Obama you might want to suck on one of these you punk.' Obama, he's a piece of shit, and I told him to suck on my machine gun. Let's hear it for him. And then I was in New York. I said, 'Hey, Hillary, you might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch. Since I'm in California, how about Barbara Boxer, she might want to suck on my machine gun. And Dianne Feinstein, ride one of these you worthless whore. Any questions? Freedom!" (Oh and also, he brags about having sex with underage girls, but hey, rock 'n roll, right?)
Nugent is in the news because Greg Abbott, the Attorney General of Texas and likely the state's next governor, decided to campaign with him, whereupon people were reminded of a rather nasty, racist thing Nugent said about President Obama last month, and that's causing Abbott to have to deal with some uncomfortable questions. Questions like, "Why would you want to campaign with this hateful jackass?" Since most of the stories about this don't actually include Nugent's full comments, here's what they were:
I have obviously failed to galvanize and prod, if not shame enough Americans to be ever vigilant not to let a Chicago communist raised communist educated communist nurtured subhuman mongrel like the ACORN community organizer gangster Barack Hussein Obama to weasel his way into the top office of authority in the United States of America. I am heartbroken but I am not giving up. I think America will be America again when Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton, Dick Durbin, Michael Bloomberg and all of the liberal Democrats are in jail facing the just due punishment that their treasonous acts are clearly apparent.
At this point, some conservatives are surely asking themselves whether hanging around with Nugent is worth the trouble, or worth anything at all for that matter. For her part, Sarah Palin hurried to Facebook to say about Abbott, "If he is good enough for Ted Nugent, he is good enough for me!" But the more common response is the kind we got from Ted Cruz, a rather lengthy "Hamana hamana hamana," leading eventually to "Those sentiments there, of course I don't agree with them." You can see exactly what's going on in Cruz's head: It's obviously way, way uncool to call our biracial president a "subhuman mongrel," but on the other hand, I don't want to give Tea Partiers any reason to suspect even for a moment that I'm not one of them or that I hate Obama any less than they do. Those nuts will turn on you in an instant! Just look what happened to Rubio. The result is some very pained equivocation.
But Rand Paul is much smarter. He knows he isn't going to get the gold medal in the GOP Hate Olympics. Whatever coalition he assembles if and when he runs for president in 2016, it's going to be a relatively diverse one. He won't have complete control of any one constituency. There'll be some libertarians here, some moderates there, some fiscal conservatives here, some isolationists there. And without anyone standing out, at this point the best thing for him may be to raise his profile as high as he can, and get mainstream reporters on his side. So we get this:
Genius. Paul obviously understands that nothing gets attention like criticizing someone on your own side, even if it's someone on the fringe. So what's his reward? Fulsome praise from people on all sides of the aisle! Oodles of good press! Even liberals will write blog posts lauding him! Like the very one you're reading. All of a sudden he looks like the reasonable one, and just look at the results. Here's a piece about him in the Washington Post. Here's an article on Politico. Here's the Huffington Post. Here's the Washington Times. You get the idea.
Rand Paul has never given anyone much reason to believe that he's a sophisticated policy thinker, or that he would be good at running the government. And it's way too early to tell how he'll hold up in the day-in, day-out slog of a presidential campaign, particularly since he has run for office a total of one time in his life. But at the moment, he's shown himself to be smarter about getting media attention than any of the other potential 2016 Republican candidates. By a mile.