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Bill Straub: From dangerous windbag to beauty, Paul’s view of Trump has evolved since primary battle

WASHINGTON – Sen. Rand Paul is, as the famous line from Oliver Stone’s JFK put it, “a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma,’’ a man who now seems eager to ditch his vaunted reputation for independence to wrap his arms and plant a wet kiss on the cheek of a man he once condemned as “a delusional narcissist and an orange-faced windbag.’’

That man, of course, is President Donald J. Trump, who has so successfully wormed his way into Paul’s famously rock-hard heart that the Bowling Green Republican is scoffing at any potential Congressional investigation into The Donald’s curious ties to Russia and even protecting him from the assaults of Sen. John McCain, R-AZ.

“Well, you know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” Paul said this past Sunday on ABC’s This Week. “And, from where I sit, we have done a lot of good things.”

From orange-faced windbag to beauty in little more than a year. Now that’s progress.

So exactly how did Paul, the celebrated pseudo-libertarian, go from warning that Trump’s perceived enthusiasm for deploying nuclear weapons “should disqualify him’’ from serving as president to, in the words of New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait, his “most loyal stooge?’’

Simple, really. Paul, like thousands before him, has become Washingtonized, a willingness to set aside all ideals of decency and fair play in pursuit of the coin of the realm, power. Republicans, controlling both the executive and legislative branches, maintain near complete command of the federal government and Paul, like others, intends to make hay while the sun shines and propriety be damned.

If that means toadying up to a character as unsavory as Trump, so be it. The situation provides cover to summarily dismiss Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, supposedly anathema to hard-boiled libertarians. The new president’s thirst for dominance, the need to humiliate his foes and the inability to absorb opposition in any form is dismissed in the face of the promise of political gain.

And we’re not even getting into the president’s history of bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia, downright atrocious manners and his sociopathic embrace of falsehoods.

But pause for a moment and let’s board Mr. Peabody’s WABAC machine and travel to a time when Trump and Paul weren’t quite so lovey-dovey.

For a while in 2015 it appeared that Paul might have the inside track toward the Republican presidential nomination. The libertarian moment –- small, almost non-existent government and doubts about foreign entanglements — seemed to have arrived and Paul was riding the wave. He had, in fact, captured the presidential straw poll taken at the CPAC conference three-years running.

Enter Trump, who almost immediately upset the equilibrium of the GOP race, calling people names, telling lies, playing to the back row and insisting that he, and only he, could save the nation.

Paul’s chances sank like a rock and his status didn’t improve any when Trump, as he is wont to do even to this day as he sits in the Oval Office, started hurling insults of a personal nature in his direction.

During a GOP presidential primary debate on Sept. 16, 2015, with Paul’s hopes already waning , Trump, for whom appearance is everything, noted that he had never attacked Paul on his looks “and believe me,’’ he added, “there’s plenty of subject matter right there.’’

Paul fought back.

“Do we want someone with that kind of character?’’ he asked. “With that kind of careless language? I think there’s a sophomoric quality about Mr. Trump … about his visceral response to attack people on their appearance, short, tall, fat ugly.’’

Later, in January 2016, Paul asserted that, “A speck of dirt is way more qualified to be president” than Donald Trump.

Obviously this did not seem to be the beginning of a great love affair to rival Romeo and Juliet, or even Martha and George from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. But here we are. Paul said on This Week, that, “I think we’re really going to do some conservative things. I’m actually very, very pleased with where we are.”

Even though the finger he feared remains within reach of the nuclear button, apparently.

Pressed by ABC’s Jonathan Karl about Trump’s credibility, or lack thereof, Paul responded there are two ways to analyze the new president: “One, words and Twitter, another on actions. And I tend to look at the actions.”

“Not everyone is perfect, but I think there’s a lot of good things — and we shouldn’t lose sight of the good things from a conservative point of view of what’s happening in Washington,” Paul said.

Ain’t love grand? It makes it so easy to lose self-respect.

But Paul’s sycophancy extends well beyond Trump’s role in furthering the conservative agenda. Trump, as has been made clear, loves him some Vladimir Putin and is particularly taken with the Russian leader’s authoritarian ways. There has been some indication that the president’s embrace of The Bear may have even gone a bit too far.

Intelligence agencies have determined that Russia involved itself in the 2016 presidential election to Trump’s benefit. Reports indicate that the Kremlin may have been in contact with some within the Trump campaign before the November vote. Trump’s choice for national security adviser, Michael Flynn, discussed the sanctions imposed on Russia by then-President Barack Obama for interfering in the electoral process with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States. Flynn later told Vice President Mike Pence that he had not discussed the sanctions, a fib that ultimately led to his ouster.

Now all that might sound ripe for a congressional probe, even though emails, the ultimate sin of a public official, weren’t involved. Not really, sez Paul, who maintains a probe would be, well, excessive.

IIn other words, give our new BFF Donald a free pass. As someone said a few years back, “Stonewall it, let them plead the Fifth Amendment.” What could possibly go wrong?

“I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party,’’ Paul said on Fox News Radio. “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. I think it makes no sense.’’

In other words, give our new BFF Donald a free pass. As someone said a few years back, “Stonewall it, let them plead the Fifth Amendment.” What could possibly go wrong?

The word “shameful’’ might be of use here.

And then there’s his rejoinder to McCain, who properly criticized Trump’s now infamous remark that the press is “the enemy of the American people.’’

“When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press,’’ McCain said. “And I’m not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.”

Paul dismissed McCain’s statement.

“Everything that he says about the president is colored by his own personal dispute he has got running with President Trump,’’ Paul said. “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.’’

Paul now finds himself so deep up Trump’s…I mean in Trump’s pocket that he is hinting that he won’t make a second run for president in 2020 – not that anyone is holding their breath in anticipation.

“I have no intention of doing that,” Paul told Karl. “My goal right now is to actually help him. He’s the Republican president. He’s doing a lot of things that conservatives are for, I’m for.”

Ah, Rand, we hardly knew ye.


Washington correspondent Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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One Comment

  1. Judith Oetinger says:

    As always..you find the truth and it is so bitter! I am in constant angst over this presidency or whatever we call it (The Brits call us a “failing democracy). Hard to relax when The Donald wants to amp up our nuclear capability and then…where does that get us?? If anyone hits..”the button,” we are all dead. He is the last person that needs to be near any button. Feeling very nervous, but also thankful that there are voices such as yours to help keep the public aware and informed.
    Judy Oetinger

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