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Tea Party's Rand Paul Squashes GOP Candidate in KY Primary

Tea Party libertarian Rand Paul handed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell his head in Kentucky's primary. A lurch to the right, or just an anti-establishment election?
 
 
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In the wake of Tea Party libertarian Rand Paul's triumph in the Kentucky primary for U.S. Senate, hundreds of journalists are writing the same lead, something about a rebuke to the Washington establishment, whose Republican members endorsed Paul's opponent, Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson. True enough, that.

But Paul's triumph -- he trounced Grayson 59-35 percent -- represents far more than a smack upside the head of Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, Kentucky's senior senator: It represents the first real toe-hold that the old lions of the New Right have really gotten inside the Republican Party proper. Nearly the moment Paul's victory was secured, Richard Viguerie, one of the founders of the Young Americans for Freedom, fired off a press release touting Paul's victory as a vote of " no confidence" in McConnell, who, despite his hard-line parliamentary obstructionism, is deemed too much of a softie for the far right.

"The 2010 elections will be a tsunami of Biblical proportions," Viguerie went on to predict in his statement.

Anti-establishmentarianism

It could be said that something of an anti-establishment spirit prevailed on the Democratic side of Kentucky's senate primary races, as well, with Jack Conway eking out a win, 44-43 percent, over Lieutenant Gov. Dan Mongiardo, the physician who nearly beat then-incumbent Sen. Jim Bunning as the Democratic nominee six years ago. But Conway is hardly an outsider -- he's the state attorney general, and he won endorsements from former U.S. Senator Wendell Ford and Rep. Ben Chandler, as Kentucky's House speaker and the bulk of the labor unions. Conway may have been the progressive choice, but he's part of his state's Democratic establishment.

Rand Paul, the Tea Party candidate, will no doubt be touted as something new and fresh by political pundits, when, in fact, he represents something quite old in American politics, the steady march to the right of American politics since the Goldwater presidential campaign of 1964. His platform is indistinguishable from the one on which his father, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., ran for president in 2008: ending the Federal Reserve, the Department of Education and withdrawing all American troops from overseas. He hails from the right's so-called libertarian strain (not exactly libertarian if you're a woman looking to exercise your reproductive rights), which means he also believes in legalizing drugs (but Kentucky voters may not have caught on to that fact).

Paul opposes all earmarks, a popular theme among the Tea Party crowd, as well as the stimulus bill, TARP, the health-care reform bill, and pretty much most of the funding for the federal government. He wants to enact a law that requires lawmakers to read all bills they vote on, and another that requires all bills to spell out their constitutional provenance. Oh, and a balanced-budget amendment.

Everything Old Is New Again

In his victory speech, Rand Paul (named for the author Ayn Rand, according to Newsweek's Howard Fineman), lauded his dad for teaching him about the glories of the U.S. Constitution. But Paul the elder seems to embrace the constitutional guidance of a couple of characters of concern: John Birch Society President John McManus, and Constitution Party founder Howard Phillips, both of whom keynoted at the Ron Paul for President convention in Minneapolis a year and a half ago. Like Viguerie, Phillips cut his political teeth on the Goldwater campaign, for which the John Birch Society helped pave the way.

The Birch Society, something of a Cold War relic, is now in a state of resurgence. Known for being pro-segregationist and paranoidly anti-Communist, its history is of a piece with the anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950s. Among its founders was Fred G. Koch, the mogul of Koch Industries, whose son, David, is now a major funder of the Americans For Prosperity Foundation, one of the two notable astroturfing groups organizing the Tea Party's discontented. (Here's a profile of Rand Paul in the New American, the Birch Society's membership publication.)