The Republican Party has largely decided to cover for Donald Trump’s massive corruption, grotesque lies, and manifest unfitness for office. But few of them have gone quite so far, or quite so cravenly, as Rand Paul. The junior senator from Kentucky, and onetime hope of the extremely short-lived “libertarian moment” in American politics, has not only attached himself to Trump, but is actively snuffing out whatever faint stirrings of opposition his colleagues can muster.
While the GOP Congress has ignored the president’s self-enrichment, refusal to disclose his tax returns, and clear violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, some have expressed willingness to investigate his opaque ties to Russia. Paul is not one of them. And not only does he see no need for investigation on Russia, Paul has staked out a stance against any investigations, period, on the brutally frank grounds that it would impair the party’s legislative agenda. “I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party,” he told “Kilmeade and Friends.” “We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans.”
Many Republicans have made piecemeal excuses not to exercise the oversight function. Only Paul has elevated the practice of looking away from the crimes of the Executive branch to an actual principle of governance.
John McCain has staked out the most independent position, most recently likening Trump’s description of the media as “enemies of the people” to the words of a dictator. Paul is having none of it. Last weekend, Paul appeared on CNN to deliver a defense of Trump so fulsome that Breitbart has published it in its entirety. After repeatedly swatting away concerns about the president, Paul explained that McCain’s criticism of Trump’s authoritarian ravings were nothing but a cover for his ideological vendetta:
I think people — you know, this is colored by John McCain’s disagreement with President Trump. It all is. Everything that he says about the president is colored by his own personal dispute he has got running with President Trump. And it should be taken with a grain of salt because John McCain is the guy that has advocated for war everywhere. He would bankrupt the nation. And actually we’re very lucky John McCain is not in charge because I think we would be in perpetual war.
Obviously Paul has longstanding disagreements with McCain on foreign policy. But the subject of this rant was not foreign policy; it was Trump’s creepy, Stalinesque dismissal of the news media as a class enemy, which Paul is excusing by changing the subject to other issues. Every authoritarian requires spineless lackeys who will attack his dissidents. In Trump’s Republican Party, the authoritarian’s best friend is the libertarian.
Update: Paul appeared on “Fox & Friends” to respond to this. A smirking Steve Doocey asked, “So, New York Magazine says you’re Trump’s most loyal stooge because, while other members of your party have some opposition to Mr. Trump, you seem to want to actually advance his agenda.” Presented with a question purporting to dismiss the premise of this piece, but actually confirming it instead, Paul made two defenses:
1. “The haters are gonna hate, what are you gonna do?” This ignores the possibility that abandoning his blanket opposition to any investigation of Trump’s scandals is a thing he could do.
2. “I’m probably one of the most independent Senators on the Hill… I was the only Republican that voted against a budget that would have added $9 trillion in new debt. So I’m hardly someone who’s afraid to tout the party line.”
It is true that Paul cast a symbolic vote against the budget, whose passage was not in doubt. The degree to which this message vote balances out his opposition to conducting any oversight whatsoever on the Executive Branch is for the reader to decide. I will note that “I’m hardly someone who’s afraid to tout the party line” may be a case where Paul stated what he is thinking in his head rather than what he meant to say out loud.