Finally, Rand Paul shows up. After several lackluster debates, Paul made a huge splash in Milwaukee, joining Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio as a winner. Until now, Paul has been struggling to deliver his message on the debate stage, but last night America got a chance to see why he’s one of the best candidates in the GOP field.
I place him at the top because he stood strong for smaller government and fiscal responsibility, deftly turned attacks to his advantage, showed great depth and thoughtfulness on the issues, put the blame for income inequality squarely at the feet of the Democrats, and shut down Donald Trump without getting personal.
The best quote of the night came from Paul when he said, “I want a government really, really small, so small you can barely see it.” He emphasized the need to cut spending and not just reduce taxes or provide tax credits.
Paul has promised that if he’s president, he will work to balance the budget and spend only what comes in, solving our deficit problem. He wants to cut spending in all areas of government, particularly those that state and local governments run better. Like Cruz, another constitutional conservative, Paul is a defender of federalism—giving power and money back to the states, where government is closer to the people.
Rand Paul Understands Peace Through Strength
When Paul called Rubio out on his lack of fiscal responsibility, Rubio made an odd pivot, accusing Paul of being an isolationist. Paul’s response was spot on: like Ronald Reagan, he believes in a strong defense (peace through strength) and that one of the primary functions of the federal government is national security, but he knows that the further we go into debt, the less safe we are.
He also challenged those who support no-fly zones in Syria. If you’re going to establish a no-fly zone, Paul said, then you better be ready to shoot down Russian planes and send our sons and daughters to fight another war in the Middle East. Are we ready for that?
He also brought some level-headedness and gravitas to the discussion about talking to our enemies. As Carly Fiorina and Trump tried to one-up each other about who knows Vladimir Putin the best (neither does, having only met the man briefly) and Fiorina saying she would cut off all communication with the Russian leader, Paul explained that we need to engage our enemies to remain strong. Part of that is talking to them, something presidents have always done.
Skewering the Income Inequality Meme
Another highlight of Paul’s performance was when he discussed income inequality, pointing out that this is a problem mostly in cities run by Democrats. “If you want less income inequality,” Paul said, “move to a city or state with Republican leadership.” That received one of the biggest cheers from the audience.
The best dig of the night also came from Paul. After Trump went on a typical rant about China and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Paul did a bit of fast fact-checking. Here’s the exchange:
Donald Trump: Almost everybody takes advantage of the United States. China in particular, because they’re so good. It’s the number one abuser of this country. And if you look at the way they take advantage, it’s through currency manipulation. It’s not even discussed in the almost 6,000-page agreement.…
Rand Paul: Hey, Gerard, you know, we might want to point out China is not part of this deal.
Gerard Baker: True, it’s true.… Isn’t that part of the problem, when I say, senator, that if this deal is not ratified by the U.S. Senate, then it would actually give China an opportunity to grow its economic leadership, which it’s been seeking to do, and if the US is unable to take part in this trade deal with these countries in Asia, China will take the lead?
Rand Paul: There is an argument that China doesn’t like the deal, because in us doing the deal we will be trading with competitors. You’re exactly right.
Remember how Trump kept attacking Paul in the first two debates, sometimes out of nowhere? This must have been sweet, sweet revenge for the senator.
Of course, besting Trump pales in comparison to Paul’s laser-like focus on getting our spending under control. “We’re the richest, freeist, most humanitarian nation in the history of mankind,” Paul said in his closing statement. “But we also borrow a million dollars a minute, and the question I have for all Americans is, think about it: Can you be a fiscal conservative if you don’t conserve all of the money? If you’re a profligate spender, you spend money in an unlimited fashion for the military, is that a conservative notion? We have to be conservative with all spending, domestic spending and welfare spending. I’m the only fiscal conservative on the stage.”
Why Cutting the Military Isn’t Dangerous
For those who think this means cutting our military a la Barack Obama, who is making our military weaker, think again. The fact is, there’s a lot in the defense budget that is not spent on a standing army—which we need to defend our nation. In recent years, a growing percentage of the defense budget has been spent on things that have nothing to do with traditional national defense.
As reported in Forbes, “These include nation-building, policing foreign nations, humanitarian missions and ferrying executive- and legislative-branch leaders and their attendants around the globe. While these activities may be tangentially related to our standing in the world, they do not enhance our war-fighting capabilities; rather they relate more to the success of our foreign policy than to our national defense.”
This increase in nondefense missions has been caused by a shift from “war-fighting to nation-building.” Should we go into debt to build nations abroad (something that has failed miserably) or to be the policemen of the world? These are the issues Paul is addressing, not supporting isolationism.
If we can cut the fat from the military budget, we can make significant moves to make our nation stronger by being fiscally responsible, with the added bonus of actually having the military focus on its primary responsibility—to be the strongest, greatest fighting force in the world.