Each time a Republican drops out of the presidential primary, I breath a little sigh of relief. It means there’s one less candidate in the race to divide the anybody-but-Donald-Trump vote, which is sizable.
But when Sen. Rand Paul withdrew from the race Wednesday, I couldn’t help feeling a twinge of sadness. Paul’s never been my first or even second choice as a candidate — I prefer more hawkish U.S. leadership — but I had little doubt that he was the most principled horse in the race. Losing his voice in the ongoing presidential primary is unfortunate for the Republican Party, even as it’s helpful to have the field winnowed.
Watching the Republican debates these past few months has made me deeply appreciate Paul for his depth of knowledge and clarity of opinion. He speaks with utter conviction and without a hint of scripting. I’ve spent enough hours in debate prep rooms to recognize the genuine article when I see one, and he is a genuine article. He stakes out risky ground and defends it.
It’s tough to understand how he scored just 2.5 percent in the Real Clear Politics average of national polling before exiting the primary.
Paul is especially effective when talking about foreign policy. His is a conservative voice of yesteryear that needs to be heard today, especially by those like me who largely disagree with it. He was the only candidate in the field boldly defending the position that America should never have gotten involved in trying to remove Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi nor Syria’s Bashar al-Assad from power, as detestable as they might have been at the time. Paul’s position was once axiomatic among American conservatives who traditionally preferred world stability over Western evangelizing.
There is no firm voice in the Republican field arguing that now.
When Republican candidates saber-rattled about no fly zones over Syria at a debate, Paul was the grown up noting the ever-important law of unintended consequences: We could end up in a shooting war with the Russians.
Paul passionately defends the American right to privacy from government, even when it’s not popular. It was easy for politicians to thunder about privacy rights when the NSA was caught capturing telephone metadata. But how those voices quieted after the shooting in San Bernardino, California.
The Kentucky senator is the strongest voice on the right side of the aisle for prison reform. He argues, as do many on the political left, that discrimination runs rampant in U.S. sentencing processes, with African Americans receiving much tougher sentences than other Americans.
You don’t often hear that being much discussed in the law-and-order Republican Party.
Yet at the same time, Paul argues for the rights of private property owners to turn down customers or memberships. “Decisions concerning private property and associations should in a free society be unhindered. As a consequence, some associations will discriminate,” he’s said.
We say we’re sick and tired of poll-driven politicians, but mostly we keep on electing them. In Paul there was a consistent voice for a set of constitutional principles with which millions of Americans agree. But instead of Paul gaining early traction, the most ideologically flexible, say-whatever-they-want-to-hear candidate of all, Donald Trump, did.
I guess Republicans aren’t looking for a philosopher king.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a Republican consultant.