Rand Paul’s Toes Don’t Quite Tap to the Christian Right Music

Few people in progressive-land are as qualified as Religion Dispatch‘s Sarah Posner to rate the performance of politicians who are trying to pander to religious groups. So I was very attentive when she wrote about Rand Paul’s puzzling interview with Marcus and Joni Lamb of the controversial religious conservative church and TV network Daystar:

While they talked at length about the role (or lack of one) for government, Paul and the Lambs didn’t talk about how Daystar itself is a beneficiary of the constrained government Paul champions. Typical for these sorts of interviews, Lamb lobbed Paul softballs, giving him the opportunity, for example, to recite a laundry list of reasons why he loves Israel. Asked about America’s relationship with Israel, Paul reiterated the special relationship and the need to attend the Netanyahu speech. Without missing a beat, he then called for defunding the Palestinian Authority and touted legislation he has proposed to cut off foreign aid to countries that persecute Christians.

But it was in talking about his own religious devotion that Paul seemed to really veer off course-that is, if his intention was to woo the Daystar audience.

Lamb gave Paul an opening to seize the moment to share his own testimony, the time he found Jesus and it changed his life forever. “I wasn’t always a choir boy,” Paul admitted, creating precisely the sort of tension that would culminate in a made-for-televangelism salvation story. But Paul didn’t go there. Instead, he said something very unusual for a Republican presidential aspirant courting an evangelical audience:

“As a teenager, I found that something was missing and decided that I would find that in Jesus. It’s something that-I tell people it didn’t always stick, either. I don’t know if that’s not-if that’s uh, blasphemy to say you have to be saved more than once, but I think sometimes it takes more than once for people. I’m also somebody who’s in science and medicine so it’s not always been easy for me to say, well, gosh, how do I see God’s hand in this horrible, horrible thing that I’m seeing, how do I see God’s presence in something-you see small children dying from brain tumors and this and that. Religion and faith isn’t always easy. But I always keep coming back.”

Lamb, taken aback, I’m sure, offered no amens to that, but transitioned to asking Paul about his family, and then about what should be done to get evangelical Christians engaged in the political process. (He seemed to have missed the obvious point that Paul himself, who attends a mainline Protestant church, isn’t an evangelical himself.) And to that, Paul offered a milquetoast answer about encouraging people to register to vote and vote, but added that he doesn’t want to hear partisan messages at church. Not a word about the religious freedom of pastors to endorse candidates! Not a word about how the Christian nation needs a revival! No diatribe against the horrors wrought by secularism!

Intrigued, I hunted down a feature that the more conventional Christian Right reporter David Brody (of CBN) did in 2013 based on spending a day with Rand and his wife Kelley. As with the Lambs, Paul was missing cues and sounding uninspired in talking about his faith. He was most animated when talking about Jesus the “Prince of Peace” as a guide to national security issues, which is definitely not what you hear from most Christian Right pols who are frothing for war with Muslims and possibly Russia. Interestingly, it was his wife Kelley who seemed to have internalized the vocabulary, buzzwords and dog whistles of the Christian Right.

This should be a reminder that we cannot assume Paul the Younger inherited the old man’s instinctive bond with the Christian Right–exercised most conspicuously through the semi-theocratic Constitution Party–or his ability to blend libertarian anti-government themes with conservative religious anti-secular themes. This could be a problem for him in Iowa and in the Deep South. Or maybe he’ll just let his wife carry that particular cross.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.