Give ‘Em What They Want

The Atlantic‘s Molly Ball did a piece over the weekend assessing the relative performances of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz at a big Tea Party event in New Hampshire, and her perspective is worth noting:

Paul began on a thundering note, invoking Thomas Paine and calling on listeners to “stand like men and women of courage and fight for your freedom.” He barely mentioned healthcare reform, focusing instead on his pitch to broaden the appeal of the GOP by changing the way it is perceived.

“If you want to grow the movement, we cannot be the party of fat cats, rich people, and Wall Street,” he said. Paul went on to argue against indefinite detention, to mock Justice Department terrorist profiling, and to argue for more lenient sentences for marijuana dealing—nontraditional conservative subjects that seemed to perplex the audience.

Cruz, on the other hand, told the crowd only what he knew it wanted to hear. His speech, unlike Paul’s, was infused with personality, beginning with cute stories about his young daughters. Of his defiant five-year-old, Caroline, who likes to play a game she calls “attack the Daddy,” he mused that she must be taking her cues from Senate Republican leadership.

Ball compared their approaches in NH with the subjects they each chose for their big moments on the Senate floor, with Paul focusing on use of drones–not a big priority even for the conservatives who actually oppose it–and Cruz, of course, demanding a “defunding” of Obamacare.

Which flavor of “constitutional conservatism” did the Tea Folk of the Granite State prefer? It was no contest:

In interviews with a dozen audience members, I could find only one who preferred Paul to Cruz.

People prefer being told they are not just right, but damned right, and if Republicans spent all their time explaining why Tea Folk are damned right, then they’d win more elections, right?

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.