Donald Trump does not like Rand Paul.
In the weirdest non sequitur of a often-incoherent second Republican presidential debate, the billionaire front-runner for the party nomination declared, “Rand Paul shouldn’t even be on this stage. He’s number 11. He’s got 1 percent in the polls. There’s too many people onstage already.”
As he has been on so many points, Trump was entirely wrong on this one.
Paul distinguished himself with coherent questioning of mass incarceration, calls for criminal-justice reform, and aggressive referencing of the injustices that extend from a failed drug war. The senator from Kentucky had one of the best moments of the debate when, during a back-and-forth over Jeb Bush’s youthful inhaling of marijuana, Paul put things into perspective for the former Florida governor: “Kids who have privilege like you do don’t go to jail. But the poor kids in the inner city still go to jail.”
And when the debate turned to foreign policy, Paul made more sense than the rest of the runners combined.
“I’ve made my career as an opponent of the Iraq War,” declared the senator, who reminded the crowd that “The Iraq War backfired and did not help us.”
Those lines did not earn Paul a lot of applause Wednesday night. This Grand Old Party does not well remember—nor respect—the wisdom of Dwight Eisenhower’s warnings about a military-industrial complex or the example of “old-right” Republicans who opposed military adventurism.
But Paul displayed a steady awareness of that history. His great contribution to the debate was to offer an alternative to the bombast and bluster that came Wednesday night from many of the other contenders—and that, frankly, comes on a regular basis from prominent figures who position themselves across the political spectrum.
The senator warned, “”If you want boots on the ground, and you want them to be our sons and daughters, you’ve got 14 other choices. There will always be a Bush or Clinton for you if you want to go back to war in Iraq.”
While others spoke of putting boots back on the ground in the Middle East, he dissented, saying, “The first war was a mistake and I am not sending our sons and daughters back to Iraq.”
Paul’s dissents extended beyond objections regarding the Iraq imbroglio—as was appropriate during the course of a debate that produced plenty of objectionable statements from the crowd of Republican front runners and pretenders.