Rand Paul is like Nigel Farage – except he might win

This rising Republican star Rand Paul combines a dull, reassuring manner with a Ukip-like insurgent appeal. It could take him to his party’s presidential candidacy

1 November 2014

9:00 AM

1 November 2014

9:00 AM

When America’s National Institutes of Heath said that it hadn’t cured Ebola yet because of budget cuts, Senator Rand Paul had an acidic answer. No, he told an audience of Republicans, the problem was not underfunding. It was bad priorities. ‘Have you seen what the NIH spends money on?’ he asked. ‘$939,000 spent to discover whether or not male fruit flies would like to consort with younger female fruit flies. $117,000 spent to determine if most monkeys are right-handed and like to throw poop with their right hands.’ And best of all, $2.4 million for an ‘origami condom’, which suggests something shaped like a swan. In fact, it’s modelled on the accordion.

This anecdote is a great introduction to Rand Paul — a libertarian with a sense of humour and a range of views that you’d imagine make him a pariah in the conservative movement. He is antiwar, wants a softer approach to tackling narcotics and has been a vocal critic of the national security establishment. Yet polling shows that he could be the Republican presidential nominee in 2016 because, like him, a lot of Americans are furious at the tragic farce that is their government. To understand the rise of libertarianism, you have to understand where Paul came from and where America is headed.

Key to Rand Paul’s success is that he looks normal. Say ‘libertarian Republican’ to many people and they picture a guy in a tinfoil hat who keeps one too many guns in his Wyoming tree house. Such a constituency indeed exists, and it worked hard for Rand’s father, Ron, when he ran for the Republican nomination in 2008 and 2012. Ron Paul wanted to end the War on Terror completely and reduce government to a size that could be safely drowned in a bathtub. He blamed 9/11 on the government’s nannyish refusal to allow guns on aeroplanes. Rand inherited his father’s ideology and interest in medicine (Ron’s an obstetrician-gynaecologist, Rand an ophthalmologist). But where Ron’s crowd was loud and abrasive, Rand has done his best to cultivate a far more mainstream image.

At a glance, Rand could easily be the manager of a regional bank. When he ran for the Senate in Kentucky in 2010, he was opposed by a Democrat who, in the personality department, should have won: Jack Conway was a charismatic stud who could’ve turned John Wayne gay. But aside from being a Republican running in a Republican state in a year favourable to Republicans, Rand also benefited from a unique political chemistry. His ideas were innovative enough to cast him as anti-Washington and independent-minded, but his look was dull enough to reassure voters that they weren’t backing a crazy. Do a Google Images search ‘Rand Paul’ and you’ll notice that he appears only to own one black suit and a red tie.

Since entering the Senate, Rand has played a very clever game. He staged a brave filibuster against drone strikes that lasted nearly 13 hours and solidified the old Ron Paul constituency of anti-government diehards. But he has shaved the sharper edges off his father’s antiwar philosophy — making the ubiquitous pilgrimage to Israel and backing airstrikes against the Islamic State. Civil rights legislation, a bête noir among right-wing libertarians, has become something that he is intensely relaxed about. Unlike his father, Rand Paul would not entirely eliminate the income tax or legalise marijuana (although he would dismantle the apparatus of the authoritarian war against it). And the net result is that America’s most radical national politician has started to look like its most moderate. Not moderate in the sense of being cynically vanilla, but in the sense of having a non-partisan philosophy that allows him to take the best policies from either side of the political spectrum. Fiscally more right-wing, socially more left-wing.

Of course, Rand’s unusual message would not appeal if America was perfectly happy with politics as usual. But it is not. A recent poll found that 74 per cent of Americans are either angry or dissatisfied with the way that the US government works. Partisanship has created gridlock as Congress fails to tackle stagnant incomes and historic levels of poverty. Massive spending has increased debt but not labour-market participation, while Obama’s signature medical reform has helped the poorest but probably increased costs for the squeezed middle. The US government’s vacillating handling of Ebola — as that Rand Paul gag about condoms implies — has seen it outperformed by disease-free Nigeria. And yet the incompetent American bureaucracy continues to expand. At home, the security state gathers citizens’ data. Overseas, the war against Islamism continues in pointless perpetuity.

Turning these complaints into a coherent platform involves piecing together an apparently disparate constituency of the disgruntled — a little like Ukip has tried in Britain. Paul’s backers include standard Republican groups such as Christian reactionaries and fiscal conservatives. But he also reaches out to the very people that the GOP needs to start reaching out to: the young, ethnic minorities and wealthy liberals worried about the over-mighty security apparatus. In other words, Rand Paul is successfully matching the ideals of libertarians to the practical concerns of ordinary Americans, building a viable, long-term political mission. And frankly, it’s the only one of any intellectual interest right now. With the media talking up a 2016 race between another Clinton (Hillary) and another Bush (Jeb), Rand Paul stands out for having both fresh ideas and a fresh name. Novelty alone will see him dominate headlines in the Republican primaries.

For the moment, Rand is the man who many Republicans running for Congress want to be seen standing next to. That shows how the American Right is evolving away from neoconservatism and towards something more strictly constitutionalist. And the fact that libertarianism could be winning votes also shows just how anti-state many Americans have become after six years of Obamanomics. Across left and right, there is a growing consensus that if government cannot help, then it can at least get out of the way.

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  • Matthew Tysoe


  • WFB56

    It never ceases to amaze me how the US can have the most dynamic business environment in the world but at the same time has one of the most incompetent government’s in the world; which, given the race to the bottom among government’s, is quite an achievement.

    • Sam_Beresford

      Good point

    • Liberty_or_Death

      Once you realize that it is the businesses that control the government the confusion subsides.

  • Som Trivedi

    Rand will not be the Republican candidate. He is far too anti-war and will be attacked left right and center by big money from the pro-war lobby which is well entrenched in Republican and Democratic circles.

    In US politics, which is permamently in (unlimited-funding) campaign mode, the little guy who isn’t hand in glove with special interests can never win a primary, let alone a presidential election.

  • Saikourufu

    Tim, You say that Rand is socially more left-wing. Can you elaborate on that ? How left-wing is he ? Could a social conservative vote on him ?

    • Jarrod Dowell

      Social conservatives are retards like Rick Santorum and and ex-preachers like Mike Huckabee. These people have no respect for any kind of social behavior that falls outside the protestant faiths. But that wing of the party is shrinking, or should I say literally dying off.

      Here is what it means to be a libertarian or leaning that direction.
      First off the federal government has 27 specific jobs all of those are contained in The Bill of Rights and the following 17 amendments. We believe that anything not expressly permitted by these laws is not the federal government’s job. Everything else is left to the states and the people. See article 10 of the US Constitution. Secondly we are social liberals. Live and let live. We don’t give a flying rats ass what you do with your life or what you put into your body as long as it does not infringe on my rights. Lastly we are fiscal conservatives, we are not saying we don’t want any government only that we should not be spending more than is brought in through taxes. Basically we want 2.7 trillion dollars of government and not a penny more.

      It’s much deeper than this but I hope this helps.

      • Kim in California

        We also don’t believe that certain corporations should be given a hand up through subsidies or tax/legal loopholes. We would try to level the fiscal playing field.

        • Bruce Lewis

          And, although I completely sympathize with this kind of “conservatism”–the true kind, a la Edmund Burke and Disraeli and John Henry Newman–it doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell in the “inverted totalitarianisms” that are modern Western “democracies”. Why? Because the wretched hoi polloi of those societies have become addicted, by a brain-washing media, to their dependent, parasitical “lifestyles.”

          • Kaine

            Perhaps you should dissolve the people and elect another?

        • Jarrod Dowell

          I don’t believe ANY business or ANY person should get subsidies or tax loopholes. This applies to those I personally support and those I don’t. We either have freedom for all or nobody has freedom at all.

    • Saikourufu

      Tim ?

    • wyclif

      Remember, in US context saying a person is “more left-wing” is relative. You don’t have to be very left-wing to be moreso than a neocon. “Fiscally more right-wing, socially more left-wing.”

    • Well for example with the war on drugs, he isn’t into it. As a doctor he is very into preserving life and said that a nation that doesn’t respect life at all stages can’t long endure.

  • jeffersonian

    Rand is great. Rand Paul and Ayn Rand.

    • DBT

      And as you might know he is named for Ayn thanks to his father.

      • LiberRepubliCrat

        No he’s not. This old myth was debunked long ago. His given name is Randal and he went by Randy until he met his wife, who shortened it to Rand.

        • mctruck

          I know how he feels – my wife won’t let me be Randy any more either 🙁

    • GenJackRipper

      Rand Paul is great; Ayn Rand was a horrific person.

      • Eudaemonia71

        Aside from the fact that she wasn’t, it’s her ideas and philosophic framework she should be judged on. They’re never more needed than now, in the face of the swirling filth of primacy of consciousness barbarians coupled with nihilistic post-modern Leftism. DIM culture all around, M2 and D2 in particular. When the future picks over the remains of Western civilisation centuries from now, they will question why we didn’t listen.

  • Jerald Hall

    If he were to be nominated by the Republicans he’d wipe the floor with Hillary Clinton. That’s why Democratic insiders are terrified of Rand Paul. It got out some weeks ago where the DNC tweeted dozens of times about Rand Paul while he was on a short Iowa trip. Once people called to their attention that it was a bit odd for the DNC to have people tailing a Senator and taking such a weird interest in a man who isn’t even running for office, they quickly shut up.
    I wish that neocons and the Christian right would take notice of the fear democrats have for this guy. He threatens to rewrite the whole narrative about Republicans being pigs. It takes someone like Hillary and makes her look old and establishment and more like what the Democrats have been trying to portray Republicans as for the last decades. If Republicans would figure this out then they might be able to beat her but Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney won’t be able to win. Toughest thing for Rand Paul is to get the Republican nomination.

    • Jay S

      Yeah Rand Paul is literally the only republican who could win a blue state in the general election.

      • DavidGolani11

        If only the neocon republicans would hold their noses and push the rand paul lever, but I suspect they won’t.

    • Bruce Lewis

      The moneyed establishment of the Republican Party, who favour neo-conservatives and revanchist Zionism will not allow him to have the nomination. Hillary will be President.

      • MrVeryAngry

        Quite. That was my initial analysis, but, I am not so sure now.

      • DavidGolani11

        Yes the modern presidential race is between who is the greater Zionist.

  • wyclif

    You write of Rand’s father, Ron Paul: “He blamed 9/11 on the government’s nannyish refusal to allow guns on aeroplanes.”

    Actually, that’s wrong. Not a little wrong. Completely wrong. A little googling of the elder Paul’s speeches and writings will quickly reveal that he blamed 9/11 on blowback from the USA’s intervention in Afghanistan, its foreign policy and continuous worldwide war, and drone strikes on children. Don’t believe me? You don’t even have to google it, it’s on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10152664000841686&set=a.10150115112081686.277590.6233046685&type=1

    • BrooklynChickLovesLiberty

      Of course Ron Paul is right. We’ve been messing with the Middle East and killing people there since the 50’s. Of course they hate us. Why shouldn’t they.

  • wyclif

    Apparently The Spectator isn’t very good at googling. Sure, Paul prefers restrained, dark suits. But there’s another, more sartorial Paul, too: http://static01.nyt.com/images/2014/05/05/us/politics/PAUL/PAUL-master675.jpg

  • Roger Hudson

    All Britain should pray that Rand is the next President. Clinton would drag us into more of it’s war adventures. If Rand Paul can get the USA to be more constitutional we will all be better off.

  • DBT

    A worthy portrait, but the “historic levels of poverty” drive-by rhetorical shooting just begs for substantiation. So, the poor in America are worse off than the poor of, say, 1787? More accurately, by virtually any measure the poor of 2014 are better off than the *rich* of the 18th century. Thank you, (relatively) free markets.

    • Bruce Lewis

      I like your “relatively” as the operative term. America is not “capitalist”; it is “corporatist” and, to understand the role of “corporatism” in subverting liberty and free enterprise, as well as Western culture, I suggest you google the term “inverted totalitarianism.”

      • DBT

        As an ardent fan of freedom, I absolutely agree. But, it was not ever thus. Even inching toward a renewal of our liberties would result in an explosion of prosperity. The best “solution” to poverty (although poverty of course is our natural state) is freedom, as over a billion Chinese have learned within our lifetimes. So yes, let’s ditch the corporatism (also known as fascism, Messrs. Bush & Obama).

        • Kaine

          State capitalism is ‘freedom’ now? Great, can we have a bit of it in Britain please?

  • BFS

    Correction. You have not done your homework Mr. Stanley. Rand Paul is not a socially left wing. He his fiercely fighting to end abortion as he believes that life begins at conception and should be defended at all cost. He also believes marriage is between a man and a woman and the government should not be in the business of redefining marriage. He fights for religious freedom at all levels. Rand Paul has not joinned the politically correct mass thinking that brought most right and left politicians and journalists to say the same thing. That is why he is so popular.
    Please take the time to look at his web site.

    • Kim in California

      Although Rand Paul may believe that life begins at conception and marriage is between a man and a woman, he also believes that government should leave these decision to the states and the people in those states. As President, he does not believe it would be his right to impose his opinion on these issues on the states. One thing you could look forward to in a Paul presidency, a strong Constitutional President and an end to Crony Corporatism in which certain corporations gain advantages over other businesses through subsidies and tax loopholes. We need a Rand Paul to bring our country back to the center and more in line with the ideals of individual freedom our Founding Fathers were inspired by.

      • Bruce Lewis

        I agree with this and I wish it could happen, but it won’t happen in 2016 because the Republican Party is still in thrall to “corporatism.” The way forward with these ideas is through a third party, as the Republican Party withers on the vine. I wish real “conservatives” in America would begin to realize this.

        • Gallum

          It would be a lot easier to just nominate Rand Paul…

      • that’s what a lot of people don’t understand, and didn’t about Ron Paul either. They know it’s not the President’s job to wave magic wands for their pet policies, but to let the people decide. This is where the comparison with UKIP lies.

    • Kaine

      The government redefined marriage with DOMA, a classic case of congressional overreach.

      Funny, when conservatives had the votes they thought equal marriage was a matter for the democratic will. Now they’ve lost that they claim it’s not for governments to act.

      • Calling out BS

        You realize a Democratic president and congress passed that in 1993, don’t you?

        • Kaine

          DOMA was enacted in 1996, not 1993. The Congress was Republican, but yes the horrendous Bill Clinton signed it into law. He signed many bad things into law. He was an awful president. Not sure what that has to do with anything, unless you see the world solely through the prism of American political tribalism.

          • Calling out BS

            on the contrary, I was responding to tribalism, which dominates Hollywood. The tiresome Democrat good, Republican bad, instead of acknowledging no one has monopoly on the good and bad.

          • Kaine

            Both of them are bad, but you seem to think either has any relation to a coherent political ideology, rather than simply being two loose alliances of paid shills arranged around their favourite animal.

            My criticism of conservatives over equal marriage applies regardless of party. That the Republicans at this particular moment have more anti-gay bigots than the Democrats is a quirk of history.

  • Lockstein13

    Sorry, Brits, Nigel Farange has it hands down over Rand Paul…
    …and is more likely to win as well.
    Libertarianism in the USA is closer to anarchism than to Tea Party Conservatism, and Rand is too close to the former for the comfort of many, regardless of pretty words.
    Nigel Farange is in comparison consistent and reliably consistent.
    So much for your paean to Paul. PHHHT!

    • David Whitfield

      Libertarianism comes in many flavors in the United States, some I’d agree are certainly more anarchist such as Lew Rockwell; others are more sensible, some objectivists certainly, and people like Peter Schiff, and Justin Amash.

  • ohforheavensake


  • jacobtheprobasketballtalk

    One thing this article got wrong, Ron Paul blamed 9/11 on the blowback theory, not because guns were banned on airplanes.

    • Kim in California

      I agree, that was a petty attempt to make Ron Paul look loony. He believed that our meddling in the mid-east resulted in 9/11. I think he was right.

  • Don’t discount the possibilities for Nigel Farage. Labour seems to be imploding. The Conservatives are imploding too. The Liberal Democrats are nowhere and even behind the Greens. I am beginning to wonder which party will constitute the main alternative to UKIP?. All the Liblabcons may need join up to officially form the single Europhile or EU-subservient, social democratic party which they really are but pretend not to be.

  • CaptSensible

    He is THE first Presidential contender I’ve felt excited about in 30 years. He is our last, best hope. If, as a nation, we are stupid enough to elect Hillary or Jeb then we deserve to continue on the road to ruin.

    • Kim in California

      Me too…first presidential candidate that I’d actually work for…I’d even switch parties from Libertarian to Republican to vote for him in the primary as I did for his father.

  • Both are a threat to the western civilization for they are weak in foreign affairs and friendly with thugs and tyrants.

    • Paddy Kilshamus

      Friendly with thugs and tyrants. Like China Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, only a threat to western civilisation would do business with those regimes.

  • Treebrain

    “Rand Paul is like Nigel Farage – except he might win”

    Actually, Tim, Nigel Farage HAS already won because he has changed the face of British politics and broke the stranglehold of the traditional mainstream three parties!

  • I don’t think he will win. And you thought Romney would win last time, so that’s no vote of confidence.
    Paul and Farage are not comparable either, since Paul is more like Hannan – and what chance would he have of winning? Anyways, Paul has the tendency to put his foot in his mouth and upset libertarians because he doesn’t continue his father’s non-interventionism, or Conservatives because he’s too libertarian. I’m watching Cruz and Carson myself.
    but lastly, the situation in America is not like ours either, it is much more bipolar, which is why a third party run doesn’t work.

    Are you bugging out of the DT yet Tim?

  • Merit Weidman Kirkpatrick

    He is not a libertarian- he is a republican.

  • Simon Smalley

    What do you mean Nigel will win to.

  • Upright Man

    Reading this article was the first time in my life that I have felt any sort of admiration or respect for US politics or politicians.

  • daner

    Just gotta say that I love this article, as I’m a yank with a Rand Paul bumper sticker who fires up the Ukip channel and Farage almost every day when I get home. I ws thirlled when they met in person about a month ago when Nigel was in the US.

    They are both eloquent, passionate, no-BS pols with clear visions for restoring the freedom and prosperity to our respective great nations. Additionally, they each receive a ridiculous amount of slander and lies, from both left and right, and yet carry themselves with such confidence as to brush it all off with a smile or a pint.

    I’ve had it in my head since January of last year that Rand and Nigel could/should be the Reagan-Thatcher 2.0 dynamic duo that once again lays the smack down on the childish, clueless, ignorant, petulant, authoritarian breed of leftist that has held sway in the anglosphere since the 90’s.

    • English Aborigine

      Amen to that Cuz

      Hope you don’t get Billary

  • specsaregood

    “But aside from being a Republican running in a Republican state”
    While it is true that recently KY has generally elected Republicans at the Federal level, it is a Democrat state with around 500,000 more registered democrat voters than republicans.

  • kamarasune

    If the oligarchs controlling America have their way you’ll only have a choice of voting for one of their top shelf tools in the next presidential election. Jeb and Hillary….Rand is this nations only hope.

  • Guest

    Look, libertarians are not serious people. I’m a Republican and he’s certainly not my choice for president — though anyone would be better than a Democrat.

  • Mr & Mrs Jones


    Your loathing of Farage is laughable. You are nothing but a school boy.

  • CraigStrachan

    I’m inclined to Stand with Rand. (Not a slogan that would fly in the West of Scotland, incidentally, but then I suppose it doesn’t have to).

  • callingallcomets

    Self styled “expert” on the USA Tim Stanley is almost always wrong when he makes predictions about US politics

  • falcons1988

    Rand Paul and Nigel Farage? What a glorious combo that would be!

  • rodger the dodger

    Left vs Right doesn’t exist anymore. Anyone who thinks it does is living in the past. It’s a dead twentieth century idea.

    It is now about those who want to be free, versus those who don’t want to be free.

  • trace9

    This time there’ll be a Bush in the Bird (eagle-type). Let’s hope 2’s really is better than 1.

  • Pepperless

    Rand is a bit wishiwashi for me, I think Ted Cruz

  • Ron Parker

    another American crazy

  • DavidGolani11

    Dear jesus please let him win, otherwise we are doomed.