To Libertarians, Rand Paul Is 'Libertarian-Ish'
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Jeb Bush may not be the only son of a candidate in the contest for the Republican nomination in 2016. The New York Times and other sources say that Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky may become the first candidate to formerly enter the race maybe as early as April 7. Senator Paul is the son of Ron Paul, the former Texas congressman who ran for president three times as a libertarian as well as a Republican. Now, Ron Paul did not win, but he established a highly-successful national network of support that often led the campaign's fundraising cycles.
Does Senator Rand Paul inherit that network even if he becomes a more orthodox Republican? Can a candidate with libertarian roots become a major party nominee for president? We're joined now by Nick Gillespie. He's editor-in-chief of Reason.com and Reason TV, the libertarian website. He is a frequent commentator in many news outlets. Thanks so much for being with us.
NICK GILLESPIE: Thanks. It's my pleasure.
SIMON: Do you see Senator Paul as a libertarian or is libertarianism just the shoes he wore to get where he is?
GILLESPIE: Let's call him libertarian-ish. You know, I think he is talking what he believes. But I think he draws a lot of ideas from his father generally without some of the baggage, to be honest. And people are more interested I think now than even a few years ago of being allowed to make more choices that are important in their lives. And you see that reflected in things like the growth in pot legalization and gay marriage. Then at the same time they're very skeptical of government, whether it's a conservative Republican government under Bush or a liberal democratic government under Obama.
SIMON: He seemed to have an emphatically nonintervention as foreign policy, until a few weeks ago, he began to talk about the importance of defeating ISIS.
GILLESPIE: This is a big split between Ron Paul, his father's supporters and Rand Paul. And Rand Paul - it's interesting that within the Republican candidates, he is by far and away the most outspoken noninterventionist in terms of foreign policy. At the same time, among libertarians, people are like, oh, this guy is the second-coming of Attila the Hun. So that's a weird position to be in, but it also speaks to an issue for Rand Paul, which is is he playing for the Republican nomination or is he playing for a general election? Because, in many ways, if someone like Hillary Clinton is the nominee of the Democratic Party, Rand Paul offers a very stark contrast. He has talked about how Edward Snowden is not a villain whereas Hillary Clinton has said that he should be in jail. But within the Republican Party, what he has to do is convince people that he can win and also that he's espousing whatever passes for Republican principles. And, in my view, I mean, I think he's right to be noninterventionist.
SIMON: I realize, to my knowledge, you're not a campaign advisor.
SIMON: But would you advise Senator Paul that at some point he has to give a speech kind of the way Jeb Bush did this week saying I love my father. I don't know if he has a brother, but...
GILLESPIE: I haven't talked to him in years.
GILLESPIE: Well, you know, Ron Paul - you know, he's got some oddness in his closet. But, you know, compared to Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush, Rand Paul has, like, the greatest situation in terms of family members lingering around the campaign in a lot of ways. You know, his foreign policy is distinct from his father's. Many of his economic policies are distinct. He needs to expound on what is his governing philosophy and why does restraint in foreign policy also mean restraint in domestic affairs? And why are those both good things?
SIMON: As you survey the political landscape on issues like privacy or foreign policy, do you see traces of libertarian success?
GILLESPIE: Oh, absolutely. There is much more skepticism, I think, towards military intervention and there's also much more skepticism towards the defense budget. On the domestic front, I think there are many types of libertarian successes. I mentioned marriage equality, pot legalization. You can also throw in militarization of police. And this is something where Rand Paul was definitely out front. He was the first national politician to weigh in on the events in Ferguson and denounce the overreaction of the local police to peaceful protesters. He's reaching out to minority audiences and different audiences than the typical Republican candidate. And it remains to be seen if that pays off for him, but I think it's very good for the country to see somebody who is not just saying, you know, I'm going to limit the government in the areas where it's bugging me, but I want to expand it if I can make you live the way that I want to.
SIMON: Nick Gillespie, the editor-in-chief of Reason.com, thanks so much for being with us.
GILLESPIE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.