While some Ron Paul supporters don’t think he is enough like his father, other Republicans worry he is too much like him. Two years ago David Frum called Paul’s senatorial nomination “a depressing event for those who support strong national defense and rational conservative politics.” Frum asked, “How is it that the GOP has lost its antibodies against a candidate like Rand Paul?”
Paul’s critics in the party have mostly kept their powder dry. There have been battles over the National Defense Authorization Act, the Patriot Act, and Libya (all of which Paul opposed) and occasionally testy exchanges on the Senate floor with Senator Graham or Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain. But with domestic policy dominating and Paul still a popular figure among conservatives, there has been no effort to read him out of the party in the style of Frum’s 2003 “Unpatriotic Conservatives” essay for National Review.
But Paul has shown he can mediate between his father’s supporters and the rest of the Republican Party before. In 2011, Paul was scheduled to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference. He was preceded by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who receiving CPAC’s “Defender of the Constitution” award, and former Vice President Dick Cheney, who took part in the presentation.
Cheney and Rumsfeld were two architects of the Iraq war. The room was filled with young Ron Paul supporters waiting to hear from the man who would take over the family political business. The crowd jeered loudly. As Slate’s David Weigel asked, “Whose bright idea was it to put Rumsfeld and Cheney in front of screaming libertarians?”
The scene was ugly. Cheney and Rumsfeld certainly did not get the reception CPAC organizers had planned. When Rand Paul walked out, facing a room mixed with Rumsfeld admirers and his father’s fans. He proceeded to deliver a speech that was well received by attendees on both sides, emphasizing common ground.
Paul was similarly deft in his remarks to his father’s valedictory rally in Tampa. If he can repeat that feat at the main event, convention organizers will be pleased — and his political career may enter a new phase.
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