With his thirteen-hour filibuster of John Brennan, Rand Paul instigated the first elephant stampede in two years. He ignited a party so inured in screechy impotence and patchwork defense that it often fails to recognize winnable battles. Paul found such a battle, and accomplished a rare feat for Republicans. By putting U.S. assassination policy on national display, Paul not only inspired the GOP to attack, he also put Obama on defense.
Some of the old-guard Republicans griped. After dining with Obama the night before, John McCain took to the Senate floor the next morning, bashing Paul with snarky comments about appealing to “impressionable libertarian kids in their college dorms.” This one utterance summed up the GOP’s problems of 2008 and 2012. What sort of politician seeking national viability for his party knocks an appeal to any group of people? Paul’s filibuster united a diverse cross-section of Republicans and even some Democrats. This success should be saluted, not derided.
The Democrat support was a nice touch, generated by what’s known in chess as a discovered attack. By attacking Obama’s left flank on drone strikes and putting him in check, he forced Attorney General Eric Holder to answer Paul’s charges and develop a rationale that would inevitably rile the Democrat anti-war base. It’s a rare moment when the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson and National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson agree. Rand Paul, bipartisan workhorse.
Paul also showed the GOP how to successfully engage in political guerrilla warfare, a style of politics employed to great effect by Democrats during the George W. Bush administration. As part of the drumbeat against Bush, Democrats fomented a series of manufactured scandals played up by the liberal media orchestra. In 2006, they alleged that the replacement of seven attorneys by Alberto Gonzalez was intended to hide Republican wrongdoing. They alleged that the “outing” of Valerie Plame was a sideways attack on Joe Wilson by Dick Cheney, and pushed that narrative all the way to Scooter Libby’s conviction on a tangential charge. Bush’s approval ratings, already fighting uphill against upheaval in Iraq, tanked.
However, unlike the Machiavellian scorched-earth tactics of Democrats, Paul fought his battle with a principled stand on a serious issue. Thanks to Obama’s overreach in the sequester battle, many more such opportunities exist. First on the list should be the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, which is releasing thousands of illegal alien criminals back into American society to scare voters into despising Republicans for refusing to cave on the sequester.
The House Judiciary Committee is set to hold hearings on the issue, but grilling ICE director John Morton and DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano is only a first step. The prisoner release, initiated before the sequester even took effect, deserves full Congressional hearings, the commissioning of a special prosecutor to determine if criminal conduct occurred and at whose direction, and a dedicated, nationwide messaging campaign by the GOP to publicize it.
Highlighting the prisoner release will open the administration up to multiple attacks. Conservatives will relish some long-awaited accountability. Independents and minority communities will ask why he released violent criminals and child abusers into their midst. (Obama will rue the day that one of these prisoners shows up at a crime scene with a gun from the Fast and Furious debacle.) From the left, he’ll have to defend the original incarcerations of these immigrants to his La Raza base. Fighting on multiple political fronts and against potential criminal charges will hinder movement on his second term agenda and accelerate his pending lame duck status.
Meanwhile, Republicans should go to minority and Hispanic communities and denounce these releases, noting that this influx of criminals will make their communities more dangerous. In doing this, Republicans position themselves as tough on crime, one of the few positions the GOP takes that resonates with urban populations, a key group that wins entire states for Democrats from one or two counties. It’s also a good time to remind Hispanics that Obama did nothing on immigration reform when he had supermajorities in Congress and that reform will be even more difficult with the negative media attention as these prisoner releases highlight the worst of those who have crossed the border. Coupled with Fast and Furious, Republicans can point out that Obama is using Hispanics as a political chip, with no intention of helping them, and frame this as all part of the Democrat “War on Hispanics.”
Obama’s other sequester moves would come into focus as well. Most people probably don’t realize that the federal budget secures funds for both the Social Security Administration and the Department of Education to deploy armed enforcement wings that crack down on Social Security and student loan fraud. The TSA, under the same federal department as ICE, found $50 million for new digs while DHS Secretary Napolitano fabricated stories of ninety-minute delays at airport security lines. All this while Obama still has money for golf outings and multiple vacations at expensive destinations.
While the Democrat-manufactured scandals alleged political motivations, Republicans don’t need to allege or insinuate. Thanks to a leaked email from the Department of Agriculture, the GOP has the benefit of knowing that the sequester-related decisions are politically driven by the Obama administration. The White House knows it’s vulnerable to this line of attack, and that it would resonate with the public, thanks to this formulation by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney: “This was a decision made by career officials at ICE … without any input from the White House.” Carney is desperate to sever any link between Obama and this politically toxic decision.
Whichever line of attack Republicans take, it’s as General Patton said: Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Victory begets victory, and in order to win, you have to fight. Pernicious dereliction of strategic thinking by Republicans and a crass negligence of duty by the media has allowed the Obama administration to go virtually unscathed these past four years. Rand Paul set the table for future Republican incursions into Democrat territory. The time has come for the GOP to stop wallowing in defeatism and to stop pathetically begging for approval by braying like Democrats.
Rand Paul has sounded the trumpet to charge. Time for Republicans to fight.
Robert J. Guenther is a political commentator and Editor-in-Chief of BiasBreakdown. He can be followed on Twitter @biasbreakdown.
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