The reviews are in — and it looks like [crscore]Rand Paul[/crscore] had a good night. Libertarians say he hit his stride. Slate says he’s best when he has nothing left to lose. It was clearly his finest performance of the four debates.
As I noted on CNN’s “New Day” Wednesday morning, his heated exchange with [crscore]Marco Rubio[/crscore] was good for both candidates. Actually, it was good for all of us. It was a substantive disagreement over a serious issue where conservatives have divergent opinions. Both candidates seemed comfortable, knowledgeable, and passionate discussing it.
For a long time now, Rand has tried to have his cake and eat it, too. He has tried to be all things to all people. But when you stand for everything, you really stand for nothing. Trying to hold his father’s base and pick up more mainstream Republicans was too cute by half. Not only did it not work, but Paul’s body language betrayed his unease with the strategy. He looked tentative and weak — until last night, that is.
The truth is that, despite some early poll numbers, Paul’s gambit was always going to require threading a needle. It was never likely to succeed. But whatever hope he had evaporated when Russia invaded Crimea and ISIS started beheading Christians.
But there’s an almost spiritual lesson to be learned here. When you try to save your political life, you lose it. When you finally surrender your political ambitions, and stay true to your calling, you flourish. It was not until Rand Paul essentially surrendered his own will to power that he became an interesting and appealing candidate.
The irony is that when you try too hard to be a successful candidate, you lose — and when you quit trying, you sometimes succeed. Look at the success candidates like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Bernie Sanders have experienced this cycle. Much of their appeal has to do with being authentic and edgy — by basically “owning” their brand rather than trying to be all things to all people. Rand Paul could have done that, too — but he decided to try to go mainstream. He decided to try to be Taylor Swift when there are actually a lot of fans out there who are clamoring for Lucinda Williams.
And so, I think last night shows us that Rand has finally come to terms with the fact that he won’t be president. At least, not in 2016. And that’s OK. He can still make a difference. He can still drive interesting debates and discussions about important decisions about foreign policy, civil liberties, and national security. Whether it was Ron Paul or Jack Kemp (there’s a lot of range on the Right) you don’t have to be president to make a difference. It’s almost impossible to look cool while pandering. Sometimes letting go can be liberating.
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