Rand Paul's reactionary, exploitative, and dishonest drone filibuster might have made him a temporary bipartisan folk hero this week, but it will come to haunt him 2016 -- especially if Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton.
Paul successfully tricked the paranoid into believing the Obama administration ever agreed with the drone killing of Americans not engaged in combat on American soil, a non-issue except for lunatics. To do so, Paul lied about Eric Holder's careful position on a hypothetical situation that would never happen anyway: yes, a President could drone kill an American terrorist like Anwar al-Awlaki if Iran invaded the US, took over California, and al-Awlaki was pinpointed in the Mojave Desert plotting to send al-Qaeda troops into Nevada.
Paul himself agrees with this position as he admitted during his filibuster. That did not prevent Paul from dishonestly pretending Obama had issued through Holder blanket authorization to bomb Springfield, Illinois.
The Obama administration's mistake was dignifying the ludicrous question in Paul's original letter with an official response from Holder. As usual, Obama's overestimates the thoughtfulness of Americans:
- Obama assumes that he can still reason in a nuanced way with conservatives and that Paul would operate in good faith and not twist his answer for selfish partisan reasons. Wrong, you cannot reason with crackpots just like you cannot negotiate with terrorists.
- Obama assumed liberals would listen to Paul's actual words, recognize the contradictions and hyperbole, and reject Paul as the unserious tool he is instead of jumping on the latest #Kony2012, er, #StandWithRand bandwagon. Wrong: Obama was the beneficiary of exactly this kind of brainless, lazy Internet-driven slacktivism himself in 2008, so he should have known better.
The rationale now for a Ron Paul candidacy in 2016 is based on the glowing reaction to his stunt from gullible liberals and libertarians. Paul will argue he now has post-partisan appeal and that he can siphon young voters and even liberals from Democrats and build the broad coalition that eluded McCain and Romney.
That rationale will implode when he is unable to reconcile his self-serving embrace of 'civil liberty' with the sexism, invasion of privacy, and homophobia necessary to represent the Republican Party. More than anyone, a Paul nomination would expose the deep fissures in the GOP between national security interventionist Republicans, small government isolationist pseudo-libertarians, and big government pry-into-your-bedrooms evangelicals. John McCain and Lindsey Graham controversially blasting their Senate colleague for his filibuster was a preview of this coming crackup.
To keep the non-Republican voters now championing him, Paul would have to admit that it's nobody's business if consenting same-sex adults marry. He would also have to embrace the right of women to make private healthcare decisions on abortion -- especially since Hillary figures to be the most pro-gay, pro-woman candidate ever.
But Paul could not reconcile his civil liberties 'heroism' with his and his party's civil rights and privacy villainy without alienating his party's base, a fatal blow to his chances.
Moreover, Paul would now look softer on national security than Hillary, who was seen as hawkish even before her stint as Secretary of State gave left her with impeccable foreign policy credentials in the minds of most Americans.
Instead of Paul stealing young voters, Hillary would win security moms, steal older voters, and bury Republicans nationwide with a landslide coalition unless Paul walks back his filibuster. Hammered with ads suggesting he would let American terrorists run rampant during a theoretical 9/11 style attack, Hillary would eventually force Paul to admit he agreed with Obama's real drone policy all along -- not the crazy one he made up.
This national security dispute would thus expose Paul as a either a dangerous foreign policy neophyte or a flip-flopping, grandstanding hypocrite.
Obama's conciliatory naiveté allowed Paul to win the battle this week -- exciting Republicans, outflanking Democrats with their own voters, and vaulting Paul into the pole position among 2016 Republican hopefuls. But Hillary and Bill Clinton have never been naive.
If Paul does end up winning the GOP nod this week's victory will prove Pyrrhic, as the Clintons will use this very same moment to make sure Paul loses the war for the White House.