A few years ago, a consummate outsider with radical ideas ran for president. He stunned the political class with the strength and success of his campaign that has reverberated through the national polity ever since. I am not talking about Ron Paul; I am referring to Jean-Marie Le Pen, the French national socialist and founder of Front National (FN). In 2002, Le Pen advanced to the second round of the French election by defeating the traditional Socialist opposition.
Even though Le Pen ultimately lost the run-off, his legacy is still felt in France today. In 2011, FN elected his daughter Marine Le Pen as its new leader. Marine set about purging the party of its worst elements – holocaust deniers, racists and cranks. Unfortunately for family dinners in the Le Pen home, her father and political mentor, Jean-Marie, was one of them.
Recognizing that her dad would continue to gain media attention every time he was quoted questioning the murder of Jews or calling the expulsion of French Muslims, Marine made the undoubtedly difficult decision to publicly denounce her father and set FN on the more moderate course necessary to gain broad political support for their candidates and ideas.
Last May, the Front National again stunned the French political class by winning national elections for the members of the French delegations to the European Union. Today she is considered a leading candidate for the French presidency and the FN holds seats in parliament.
When it comes to his father, Rand Paul should look to France.
Front National is a vile, illiberal political force and I weep for France. But that doesn’t make their political strategy or tactics wrong. In fact they have been highly successful. Many within Paul’s circle recognize this truth. Rand Paul chronicler Brian Doherty acknowledged this understanding to The Daily Beast, “I think he genuinely doesn’t want to alienate his father’s base, but he has clearly decided that the noisiest Paulites in the Paul wing, he can probably afford to lose them,” This perspectives recognizes that it would be better if some of Ron Paul’s supporters will just go away rather than being a drag on Rand’s ambitions. He was right. Those that have made Ron Paul the vessel for every crazy conspiracy theory and repugnant political idea that the liberty movement has permitted to linger at its fringe will be a negative for Rand.
This is a tough position for me to take. I gave Ron Paul almost two years of my life as special assistant to his 2008 presidential campaign. My respect and appreciation for Congressman Paul is unvarnished and sincere. But the purpose of political campaigns is to obtain political power. Rand Paul now seeks the political power of the presidency. His father’s radical past and controversial present are obstacles to that objective.
In conversation after conversation with Republican activists, operatives and donors I have heard Ron Paul’s (often wrongly) perceived positions tied to Rand. “Isolationist”, “anarchist”, “anti-Semite,” and worse are common responses to the question, “What do you think of Rand Paul?” This is in spite of a herculean effort of Team Rand to define him in more moderate terms and carve out far more appealing policy positions. As I observed in my master’s thesis for George Washington University’s School of Political Management,
“Senator Paul has been wise to go to Israel, introduce the “Stand with Israel Act” as well as an amendment to end American aid to Israel’s enemies. He has also supported sanctions on Iran and Syria, positions that his father likens to acts of war. He has prayed at the Western Wall, danced to Yiddish music, toured a Yeshiva and held conference calls with prominent Jewish leaders.”
However, the reality is that there is no amount of outreach or position finessing that is going to turn a plurality of Republican activists and voters towards Rand as long as each of these efforts can be countered with a quote from Ron Paul. He is long distrusted for his political heresy on a host of GOP sacred cows from Israel to the Cuban embargo to drug legalization. These are already used as a cudgel to pound on the more moderate and popular narrative that the younger Paul has worked hard to cultivate.
Because of this, Rand Paul must erect a firewall between himself and his father in order to create a message space that frees him from association with Ron’s less politically palatable supporters and statements. This is Rand Paul’s Sista Souljah moment and without it, he will not survive the Republican presidential primary.
A Sista Soulljah moment is a term that originated in 1992 when then candidate Bill Clinton used a violent and racist quote by rapper and agitator Sista Souljah to distance himself from the worst elements of the radical left and show the electorate that he is a different, more moderate kind of Democrat. The ploy worked and the rest is history.
I just hope Ron Paul understands that.
An earlier version of this article erroneously quoted David Adams. The author apologizes for the mistake.