Rand Paul’s Pandering To Social Conservatives Likely To Turn Off Other Supporters

Rand Paul has been cozying up to social conservatives lately, but he risks alienating the people most likely to support his campaign for the White House.

Rand Paul

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who seems to be engaging in some heavy pandering toward social conservatives in recent weeks:

Earlier this week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) made an about-face on defense spending. He also shifted on same-sex marriage.

Speaking to a group of pastors in Washington on Thursday, Paul said that a moral crisis is leading people to believe that same-sex marriage is acceptable.

There is a “moral crisis that allows people to think there would be some other sort of marriage,” aside from traditional marriage, Paul said, according to a video from CBN News/The Brody File. Attendees included Jerry Johnson, chief executive of National Religious Broadcasters, and David Lane of the American Renewal Project.

The video and amendment that Paul put forward to boost defense spending show a sharp tack to the right from the libertarian-leaning Kentucky Republican as he moves toward an expected presidential bid announcement next month.

In an interview with CNN in October, Paul said he believes in “old-fashioned marriage,” but he said that the government shouldn’t be involved and that the Republican Party can “have people on both sides of the issue.” When asked if he could rethink his opposition to same-sex marriage, Paul shrugged.

A spokesman for Paul said the senator’s position “has not changed” and “continues to believe that marriage is an issue that should be dealt with at the state level.”

Paul told the pastors that they have a role in Washington and that prayer is a part of government.

“The First Amendment says keep government out of religion. It doesn’t say keep religion out of government,” Paul said, according to the video.

Paul also called for “another Great Awakening, with tent revivals” of people calling for reform. “Or see what’s going to happen if we don’t reform,” he said.\

On a related note, Buzzfeed reported yesterday on a previously unnoticed 2013 interview in which Paul said that he did not believe in gay rights, because being gay is a behavior:

Sen. Rand Paul said he doesn’t buy into the concept of gay rights because they are defined by a gay person’s lifestyle.

“I don’t think I’ve ever used the word gay rights, because I don’t really believe in rights based on your behavior,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters in a videotaped interview that has received little attention since it was recorded in 2013.

But it’s unclear how far — and to whom — Paul extends the argument that rights cannot be defined by behavior.

Practicing religion, for example, is a behavior enshrined as a primary American right. Free speech is behavior protected by the Bill of Rights. Likewise, a person’s right to be free from discrimination for his or her nation of origin — which entails the behavior of moving from one country to the United States — is embedded in America’s civil rights laws and broader code of values.

 Does Paul believe those behaviors are protected rights?

Eleanor May, a spokesperson for Paul’s 2016 re-election campaign to the U.S. Senate, said the rights that count are those in the country’s founding charter. “What he is saying in this video is that he does not classify rights based on behavior, but rather recognizes rights for all, as our Constitution defines it,” May told BuzzFeed News.

“Sen. Paul is the biggest proponent for protecting the Bill of Rights, which, as you know, protects the rights of all Americans as stated in our Constitution,” May said.

Explicitly religious rhetoric like this isn’t new for Republicans, of course, but it’s generally something you’d expect to hear more from Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, or Ben Carson than from a candidate who has spent most of his time in the political limelight trying to walk a very fine line between the libertarians that have been the strongest supporters of him and his father and the social conservatives that make up an important constituency in the Republican Party, and especially in states such as Iowa and South Carolina that will play a big role in deciding who the front runners for the GOP nomination in 2016. Previously when it came to the marriage issue, Paul walked that line by taking the position that marriage is an issue that should be left to the states, that the Federal Government had no role in the matter, and in some cases even that marriage itself should be something that the state wasn’t involved in at all. With comments like this, though, Paul seems to be clearly coming down on the side of the social conservatives more than he has in the past, and as Olivia Nuzzi notes, in doing so he risks alienating another part of the political coalition that he depends on:

Paul supporters will tell you they like him because he is different. Compared to someone like Ted Cruz, who arrives onstage looking like he has just climbed out of a vat of oil, speaking in tongues and promising everyone liberty and candy, Rand Paul, who talks slowly but thinks fast like Daria and isn’t particularly good at shaking hands, is about as real as it gets.

But Paul keeps testing their patience. With the rise of ISIS, we learned that Paul’s skepticism of military intervention was milder than he advertised. By signing the GOP’s open letter to Iran, it became clear that the senator values political expediency to the degree that he will sign a document explicitly designed to do the opposite of what he claims he wants, which was to halt the nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and Iran – the very negotiations Paul claimed (and continues to claim) to be in favor of.

And, now, in the setting of an intimate gathering of evangelicals, Paul transforms from keep-the-government-out-of-it to a full-fledged gay marriage interventionist.

Paul’s recent comments, as well as the interview from 2013,  have the potential to undermine another part of the coalition his strategists seem to be relying upon in the upcoming campaign. One part of that coalition, of course, are libertarian oriented voters including, but not necessarily limited to, the people who supported his father’s campaigns in 2008 and 2012. Seemingly anti-gay rhetoric such as this from Paul doesn’t seem as though it is going to go over very well with this crowd. As one of those potential supporters, I can say that my opinion of Senator Paul has diminished the more he has pandered to the social conservative wing of the GOP, and rhetoric like this just makes that pandering seem all the worse. This group of voters may not be very large in many primary states, but it has been enthusiastic in the past but in terms of willingness to volunteer for campaigns and turn out to vote. If Paul starts to turn those voters off, then that makes the task of staying near the top of the GOP pack all the more difficult.

It isn’t just with the libertarian wing of the GOP that Paul risks discrediting himself with his supporters, though. More so than any of the other potential Republican candidates, Senator Paul has made a conscious effort to appeal to younger voters, primarily by emphasizing his positions on civil liberties issues, sentencing reform, and other issues.  As Shane Goldmacher noted in National Journal recently, this is a risky strategy to begin with given the fact that Republican primary voters tend to be older, and the fact that younger voters don’t tend to vote in large numbers to begin with, particularly in Republican primaries. Given their strength in states like Iowa and South Carolina, it’s not surprising that Paul is trying to appeal to social conservatives. He’s going to be competing for those voters with a number of other candidates, though, many of whom have far deeper ties to that wing of the Republican Party than he does. As it stands, his current round of pandering seems as likely to turn off others who might be inclined to vote for him as it does to help him with that one segment of the party.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. grumpy realist says:

    This is OT, but sorta fits in with Rand as “critter saying flakey things.”

    As if Greece didn’t have trouble enough.

  2. While Paul has certainly been pandering to Socons lately, the Buzzfeed quote is not an example of it.

    The quote in question was deceptively edited out of a longer answer that makes it clear what Paul meant is not that he’s against gay rights per se, but rather he’s against the term “gay rights” because it implies there are different sets of rights they apply to different sets of people based on what they do rather than a single universal set of rights that all people are owed because they exist.

    Buzzfeed, not suprisingly given their history, took a snippit of it out of context so they could write a clickbait title about it.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    Example number 9000 or so of how the Tea Party is the GOP, and so-called “moderate” Republicans, and so-called “libertarian” Republicans, are fooling themselves.

    The GOP is not and never will be remotely “libertarian.” The GOP is a white, rural, elderly, uneducated and deeply bigoted party with distinctly fascist undertones.

    This is why, Doug, if you were to pull your head out of your undergrad self’s behind, and open your eyes, you’d see what absolutely everyone else with any objectivity sees: between the two major parties, it is the Democrats who espouse the more libertarian ideology.

    You vote for the more repressive party in the belief that they are not what they quite clearly are. It’s delusional. It’s as dumb as some uninsured, barely-paid trailer mom in Arkansas voting Republican because they’ll save her from Obamacare. You sir, are as brainwashed and as clueless as those people.

    There will never be a really libertarian government because libertarianism is the chicken pox of ideologies: it’s something you generally get as a child and if it recurs in adulthood we call it shingles and it’s very painful.

    But the part of libertarianism that focuses on the rights of the individual is quite clearly living within the Democratic party.

  4. @Stormy Dragon:

    e.g. If I say “Same sex marriage shouldn’t be a gay right, it should be a human right!”, it would be misleading to report that as “Stormy Dragon says marriage shouldn’t be a gay right!”

  5. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    So, in essence, Paul engaged in verbal legerdemain in an attempt to avoid espousing support for equal treatment for gays – and thereby offend the base that he’s clearly trying to pander to- but that somehow makes him a supporter of gay rights – because he didn’t explicitly denounce them?

  6. @HarvardLaw92:

    Despite Paul’s many faults, it still doesn’t justify deliberately deceptive journalism.

  7. Modulo Myself says:

    Paul’s supposed scrupulous analysis of the nature of civil rights is contradicted by the use of ‘old-fashioned marriage.’ The guy is for child-brides and women-as-chattel and yet he’s lecturing about where civil rights comes from. As far as he can tell, from a strict reading of the Constitution, the Founders gave men the civil right to sell off their daughters to the highest bidder.

  8. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Would adding the excised verbiage have changed the perception of his stance on the issue?

  9. Realist says:

    I shouldn’t think it’s going to make much difference to Paul’s core Libertarian constituency on the basis of Paris is worth a Mass. Libertarians are essentially Republican fellow travelers. The problem with most of the Republican base, whether they call themselves libertarian or not, is that they share the same delusions about the nature of the US polity in 2015. We’ve been living in a full blown administrative state since at least 1952 (over 60 years!) and every crisis and technological/social/economic change that has occurred since has further solidified this reality. It’s completely irreversible. Hence both Paul and Cruz (who is certainly aware of this even if Paul believes his own propaganda) and all the rest of them are selling the base a bill of goods when they say this can fundamentally altered. It can’t. Doug, who is not a stupid man, appears to have bought into a rather stupid ideology that bears no relation to real world America.

  10. Lenoxus says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Well, this is a fundamental point of disagreement between some groups of liberals and various other people: is there value in demographic-based civil rights alongside general basic human rights, or can we count on a general philosophy of human rights to carry the day?

    The liberal contention is that you need both. Women’s suffrage requires some acknowledgement of women’s rights, not just human rights (which historically have often been framed, unsubtly enough, as the rights of “men”). And of course, a purely libertarian attitude on Jim Crow only strikes down the government imposition on business, while explicitly refusing to interfere in private discrimination. In general, liberals contend that the existent structures of bigotry require some kind of positive counter-force, not just “okay, from this point on, everyone just gets along”.

    With respect to same-sex marriage in particular, transferring it outside the domain of gay rights into generic human rights is a tad absurd, and cheapens the value of marriage in our society, which (for better or worse) is not just an arbitrary association. The “right” of two non-romantically-coupled straight people to enter a same-sex marriage is of zero significance one way or another; we are talking about a “gay rights” issue.

    And the fact that Rand Paul explicitly opposes it on a personal level just drives home the point: He doesn’t even believe in some “abstract” right to same-sex marriage anyway, and I think his refusal to believe in gay rights is a contributory factor to this. When you insist on generic humanism in all circumstances, you very often let actual rights-infringement fall through the cracks because from where you sit it seems like no big deal. (I don’t need a ramp to enter the building, why should anyone else? My skin doesn’t burn in the sun, so why does anyone want sunscreen? I have no interest in marrying another dude, so what’s the problem?)

  11. Women’s suffrage requires some acknowledgement of women’s rights, not just human rights

    This just begs the question. There’s no reason you can’t say women have the right to vote because all people have the right to vote.

  12. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    There’s no reason you can’t say women have the right to vote because all people have the right to vote.

    Until 1920, women didn’t have the right to vote. There is no reason to say it NOW, but it would have been a perfectly legitimate observation in, say, 1919.

    Sort of how like gay folk don’t (yet anyway) enjoy equal protection under the laws. The comparison is a legitimate one.

  13. grumpy realist says:

    @HarvardLaw92: And the same damn Natural Law arguments that are now being brought out as a reason against SSM were also used against female suffrage.

  14. Lenoxus says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Hardly anyone thinks “all people” have the right to vote. There’s broad agreement that babies don’t have that right, nor people who don’t even live in the relevant district. (Should I be allowed to fly to another country on vacation and vote there for the fun of it?)

    In various states, controversy exists regarding suffrage for current/former prisoners, and mentally disabled people. The only way to achieve voting rights for felons (for example) is to develop and present a positive conception of felons’ rights, or its equivalent in discrediting the argument against them. (And to be fair, that equivalent doesn’t have to be of the positive/liberal variety. But in practice it will amount to something like it. Try traveling to 1910 and arguing for women’s suffrage without sounding “like a feminist” — it will be difficult, because of deep establishment of the sexism you’d be up against.)

  15. JohnMcC says:

    Our Gracious Host says that the ‘libertarians’ who supported his father are part of the Rand Paul constituency. He appears to believe that these Ron Paul supporters are disturbed by bigotry. He knows very little about the supporters of the senior Paul:


  16. Scott F. says:

    @michael reynolds:

    … the part of libertarianism that focuses on the rights of the individual is quite clearly living within the Democratic party.

    But, the part of libertarianism that focuses on taxation as theft is quite clearly living within the Republican party. That’s the part of the movement wherein Rand Paul lives and those who are excited about him will ignore the inconsistencies.

  17. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @Scott F.:

    The thing I find amusing about Libertarians is that they seem to espouse an a la carte approach to taxation – as long as the things that they like are funded.

    For example, few people in NYC own a car. Why should they be expected to pay for roads?

    A whole lot of people don’t like the military (I’m not one of them …). Should they be allowed to opt out of paying for defense?

  18. Realist says:


    Doug god bless him is required to subscribe to a number of cognitive dissonances in order to hold onto his core libertarian belief system. It’s been common knowledge for years that much of Paul seniors base was tainted by racism. Doug to use a biblical metaphor just crosses to the other side of the road when the odor is too strong.

  19. Realist says:


    Don’t look for intellectual consistency with these folks because there isn’t any. Collectivism lies at the base of all modern societies but they reject it (but only selectively…lol)

  20. T says:

    @HarvardLaw92: I’m with Libertarians on a lot of issues. Defense cuts, personal liberties, ending the drug war. But when they start talking about getting rid of public schools and taxation = theft, i start checking out.

  21. wr says:

    I am constantly amused at people who still believe that Rand Paul has any core principles other than “me me me.” He’s proven time and again he’ll say anything to get elected. His father seems to be a true believer — Junior is just a hack with a schtick that’s disposable when it stands between him and a vote… or a camera.

  22. michael reynolds says:

    @Scott F.:

    But, the part of libertarianism that focuses on taxation as theft is quite clearly living within the Republican party. That’s the part of the movement wherein Rand Paul lives and those who are excited about him will ignore the inconsistencies.

    And this is why I have so little respect for libertarians. Net taxation in this country floats within a range of about 5% one way or the other, and that’s only at the upper reaches, people lower down pay little or no actual income tax. So for the chance to save 5%, a libertarian will sell out segments of his fellow Americans by voting for the party of repression.

    It’s immoral, juvenile and unrealistic. All perfectly understandable in a young male with no experience of life – young men ain’t very bright, and yes, I definitely include myself. But still being a libertarian in your adult years? That’s somewhere between embarrassing and contemptible.

  23. grumpy realist says:

    @michael reynolds: And in my experience, they’re not all that great in bed, either.

  24. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Libertarianism has always struck me as the adult (and I use that term loosely) equivalent of “but MOOOOOOMMMMM, I don’t want to eat my vegetables!! *foot stomp*”

  25. Tillman says:

    @grumpy realist: What, young men or libertarians?

  26. Tillman says:

    @Realist: The Devil’s Advocate™ response would be the general progression of human society and technology since ancient times has been away from authoritarian government structures (collectivism) and towards decentralized, “freedom-loving” government night watchmen types. No one denies humanity’s eusocial traits (though I’m sure a zoologist would choke me for using that term outside its accepted scientific meaning) and how they got us this far, but there’s a certain almost transhumanist streak in libertarian thinking, or maybe Hegelian.

    Mill didn’t know crap about what advances in the standard of living for humdrum people would do to the concept of freedom as he understood it.

  27. grumpy realist says:

    @Tillman: Libertarians, natch!

    Somehow innate selfishness doesn’t make for a very good time between the sheets. Hoocodanode.

  28. Realist says:


    Well the devils advocate would be wrong. Collectivism does not necessarily imply authoritarianism. And you’re totally wrong about the progression of history. Is the US government more centralized today than it was in 1789?

  29. Realist says:


    “Collectivism is any philosophic, political, religious, economic, or social outlook that emphasizes the interdependence of every human being. Collectivism is a basic cultural element that exists as the reverse of individualism in human nature (in the same way high context culture exists as the reverse of low context culture), and in some cases stresses the priority of group goals over individual goals and the importance of cohesion within social groups (such as an “in-group”, in what specific context it is defined). Collectivists usually focus on community, society, or nation. It is used and has been used as an element in many different and diverse types of government and political, economic and educational philosophies throughout history and all human societies in practice contain elements of both individualism and collectivism. Some examples of collectivist democracies include Portugal, India, and Japan.”

  30. Tillman says:


    Is the US government more centralized today than it was in 1789?

    …yes? If only because the nature of American government itself has changed since 1789. What, did the Constitution come with all twenty-seven amendments packed in after the Constitutional Convention? 🙂 The Sixteenth Amendment alone was a hell of a centralization.

    And the sophistication and propagation of communications technology lets disparate government agencies coordinate in a way that renders gathering a posse in the Old West to go capture an outlaw a farcical comparison. That these agencies are separated by law doesn’t limit their reach.

    If I were a consistent libertarian, that’s how I’d see freedom’s role coming out of collectivistic societies, and collectivism being an archaic position to have now that we’ve realized a certain level of economic achievement.

  31. grumpy realist says:

    @Tillman: How much of it do you think was centralization and how much standardization? As soon as the first trader tried to cross a state line with his 12-pack egg carton and got immediately told no go unless it’s repacked into a 10-pack egg carton there would have been a reverberating yowl of complaint.

    Get enough of commerce across state lines and of course you’re going to going to see a shift towards standardization because it Simply Makes Things Easier.

  32. Realist says:


    Now you’re contradicting yourself. And of course the nature of US government has changed since 1789, that’s the point.

  33. Tillman says:

    @grumpy realist: Good point. My instinct is to say the two fed into each other, especially when industrial processes started being housed in one area like a factory, but I haven’t given that a lot of thought. This is, after all, my Devil’s Advocate™ position.

    @Realist: Please, elaborate on the contradiction. I only pretend to be a smart person, I don’t even think this way normally.

  34. Grumpy Realist says:

    @Tillman: there’s also the fact that aside from the Feds regulating interstate commerce they found they had to keep regulating intrastate commerce as well, because the states kept trying to pass laws that gave advantage to the locals and penalized those outside the state.

    If there hadn’t been a history of that the distribution of power between the states and the federal government would probably been very different.

  35. DrDaveT says:

    @grumpy realist:

    And in my experience, they’re not all that great in bed, either.

    Well, they’re more used to rugged individualism. (rim shot)

  36. michael reynolds says:

    That’s a thread-winner.

  37. Realist says:


    Statement 1

    “The Devil’s Advocate™ response would be the general progression of human society and technology since ancient times has been away from authoritarian government structures (collectivism) and towards decentralized, “freedom-loving” government night watchmen types.”

    Statement 2

    “yes? If only because the nature of American government itself has changed since 1789.”

    (In answer to question whether government was more centralized today than in 1879)

    I’ll leave you to figure it out.

  38. Kylopod says:

    The statement that Rand Paul is “pandering” suggests it doesn’t reflect his true convictions, that he’s not really a social conservative but merely pretending to be one, a la Mitt Romney. That assumption doesn’t square well with the evidence. As early as 2010, he supported a Federal Marriage Amendment. Of course you could argue that he was pandering back then, but the point is that his history doesn’t reveal someone who started out supportive of gay rights before abandoning it; if anything, his “let the states decide” rhetoric is more recent and is just as likely to be pandering as his more explicit anti-SSM remarks.

    I think Doug is seeing what he wants to see in Sen. Paul; because Paul is commonly identified as “libertarian,” Doug assumes that means his views on personal-freedom issues must be liberal or moderate, reflecting Doug’s own preferences. But that just goes to show how misleading the “libertarian” label can be. Even Paul’s dad, who had a stronger claim to the libertarian mantle, was a staunch pro-lifer whose record on LGBT issues was mixed at best.

  39. CET says:

    I’m sure this will piss off the philosophy/econ mavens (you know who you are), but there are at least two different uses of ‘libertarian’ being used here (and in general). There’s the Objectivist/’Taxation is Theft’/’Selfishness is a virtue’ thing that’s closest to the sort of philisophically pure (and wholly adolescent) ideology that many of you are using as a strawman and a convenient but lazy way to lob the usual ad hominems at Doug.

    But, there are also got a lot of people who use ‘libertarian’ as short hand for a range of positions that don’t map easily onto the current Dem/GOP split. These positions usually involve less government interference across a range of social and economic issues. One of the reasons that these people don’t just use ‘moderate liberal’ or ‘moderate conservative’ is that these position also often include opposition to both parties’ key planks – whether it’s the war on drugs and the establishment of Christianity as the state religion by the right, or militant identity politics and progressive ‘for your own good’ laws from the left, or fiscal irresponsibility and preventative war by just about everyone.

    Unfortunately we’ve pretty well mangled any historically consistent definitions of liberal and conservative in this country, and ‘independent’ is too vague to be at all useful, since it can just as easily refer to fans of Bloomberg-style autocrats, or people who just don’t vote. Since libertarian at least implies the appropriate direction from center, a lot of people use it, even if they don’t have an Ayn Rand blow up doll or sleep with a copy of Nozick under their pillow.

    And now I return you to your regularly scheduled food fight and name calling.

  40. Realist says:



  41. Kylopod says:

    @Realist: Solomey.

  42. Realist says:


    The post structuralist libertarian…lol

  43. ernieyeball says:

    POP! Goes the Weasel!

    @wr:..Junior is just a hack with a schtick that’s disposable when it stands between him and a vote… or a camera.

    It’s a good bet Dandy Randy Paul wishes the Great Wall of China was in between him and the camera when he heard the words “I’m actually a dreamer”. GAG! ACK!

  44. Tillman says:

    @Realist: I mean, unless you conflate all of human history with American government, that’s not a contradiction?