Rand Paul, son of libertarian Texas congressman Ron Paul, clinched the Republican Party’s nomination for Kentucky’s open Senate seat on Tuesday. In his victory speech, Paul reiterated the sentiment of the nationwide Tea Party movement whose symbol he might well become: “We have come to take our government back,” he said.
The younger Paul gained notoriety last month when he actively challenged Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, the party’s favorite who enjoyed an endorsement from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Unlike Grayson, Paul openly criticized the massive bailouts of Wall Street firms and automakers, describing them as “a transfer of wealth from those who have earned to those who have squandered,” as well as the evermore pervasive presence of the federal government in people’s private lives and economic activities.
Anti-government rhetoric goes well with voters on the right nowadays. According to Politico, “With his attention-grabbing views railing against Washington and its ballooning budget deficits, the fire-breathing Paul successfully connected with this state’s furious Republican primary voters, something that the more subdued Grayson was unable to accomplish in the fight to replace retiring two-term GOP Senator Jim Bunning.”
Some are skeptical that Paul’s victory signifies much however. According to Joshua Green, writing for The Altantic, Rand Paul’s win doesn’t herald a Tea Party tidal wave. For one thing, “Paul’s celebrity dad brought him money, volunteers, name recognition, and media attention, particularly on Fox News. What other Tea Party candidate can match that?” he wonders.
At Newsweek, David Graham warns against a “conservative backlash” to Paul’s victory, noting that, “Even some heterodox conservatives are voicing concern.”
Commentators on the left have been quick to convince themselves that Tuesday means nothing. Andy Ostroy at The Huffington Post believes that Paul’s victory only shows “that Republican voters are sick of establishment GOP candidates.”
The Tea baggers can beat their chests and crow all they want about the “hugeness” of their movement’s big victory, as Paul boasted last night, but all it portends for the party in November’s midterm elections is Republican-on-Republican bloodletting.
Matthew Yglesias at Think Progress is all the more assertive, describing Paul as a “lunatic” and predicting that the Kentucky Senate seat will go to the Democrats this fall. John Marshall at Talking Points Memo closes the ranks, opining that in his victory speech, Paul “came off to me as arrogant, bellicose and even a little messianic in his demeanor.” In short, “he sounded like a jerk.” Marshall even suggests “that that sort of attitude is part and parcel of the Tea Party movement.” Right. It’s the tea partygoers who are condescending, not the politicians whom they oppose and believe that government knows best only to cry that regulation is for your own good.
Considering that Paul led Grayson by 59 to 35 percent of the vote; considering the predominance of the Republican Party in Kentucky politics, with the state opting for GOP candidates in the last three presidential elections; and considering today’s political climate in all of the United States, Rand Paul as senator is by no means unthinkable. Quite to the contrary.