If former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has anything to say about it, the political sins of the father will be visited on the son. On Patriots Day, Giuliani endorsed Trey Grayson in the Republican primary race for U.S. Senate in Kentucky. But the endorsement had as much to do with GOP frontrunner Rand Paul-and his father, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas)-as it did Grayson.
“Trey Grayson is the candidate in this race who will make the right decisions necessary to keep America safe and prevent more attacks on our homeland,” Giuliani said in a statement. “He is not part of the ‘blame America first’ crowd that wants to bestow the rights of U.S. citizens on terrorists and point fingers at America for somehow causing 9/11.” Other prominent hawks have since joined Giuliani in this line of attack.
It was during a 2007 Republican presidential candidates’ debate that Giuliani sparred with the elder Paul over 9/11 and blowback from American foreign policy. After Ron Paul argued that U.S. interventionism in the Middle East motivated the terrorist attacks, Giuliani shot back, “That’s really an extraordinary statement… as someone who lived through the attack of September 11 that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq.” Offered an opportunity to “withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn’t really mean that,” Paul stood his ground. “They don’t come here to attack us because we are rich and we’re free,” Paul said. “They come and they attack us because we’re over there.”
That exchange turned out to be the high point of Giuliani’s failed campaign for the White House. Rand Paul, on the other hand, is getting closer to capturing the GOP senatorial nomination than either Giuliani or Ron Paul ever got to the Republican presidential nod. The younger Paul has led Grayson, Kentucky’s current secretary of state, by double digits in the public polls since December. He has picked up endorsements from Sarah Palin, Steve Forbes, and retiring Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY), without seeing much “blowback” from critics of the Paul family’s preferred foreign policy.
Until recently, that is. In March, Politico reported that Cesar Conda, a former aide to Dick Cheney, fired off a worried email to leading national security hawks. “On foreign policy, [global war on terror], Gitmo, Afghanistan, Rand Paul is NOT one of us,” Conda wrote. His recipient list included such neoconservative luminaries as Liz Cheney, William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Dan Senor, and Marc Thiessen.
Then the former vice president weighed in himself. “I’m a lifelong conservative, and I can tell the real thing when I see it,” Cheney said in his endorsement of Grayson, pronouncing the candidate “right on the issues that matter.” As with Giuliani, it was clear that the issue that mattered was Rand Paul and his father.
“The challenges posed by radical Islam and Al Qaeda are real and will be an on-going threat to our domestic security for years to come,” Cheney continued. “We need Senators who truly understand this and who will work to strengthen our commitment to a strong national defense and to whom this is not just a political game.” Former Sen. Rick “Long War” Santorum (R-Penn.) also endorsed Grayson over Paul.
The Grayson campaign did its part by playing the 9/11 card. They released an ad replaying Ron Paul’s comments from the South Carolina debate and interspersing them with foreign policy statements Rand Paul made while campaigning for his father in 2008. Clips of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright delivering his infamous “chickens have come home to roost” sermon were thrown in to keep the two Pauls company
Yet during his Senate campaign, Rand Paul has actually positioned himself closer to the conservative mainstream on the war on terror (he favors military trials for terrorism suspects), Gitmo (he is against shutting it down), and Afghanistan (he still supports the war) than his father-much to the consternation of libertarian hardliners. Paul has hit back hard against Grayson on these issues, running ads touting his commitment to a “strong national defense” and saying that “fighting back was the right thing to do” after 9/11.
And while Rand Paul has said he would have voted against the Iraq war, he has otherwise been cautious on foreign policy issues since his Senate campaign began. He has been criticized for saying Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons because its government feels “threatened,” but he also says he favors divestment of public investments from Iran and that he would not vote to condemn any Israeli military action to take out Iranian nukes. As for his thoughts on American military action, Paul has kept those views close to the vest.
But he has made clear he doesn’t like to be characterized as a run-of-the-mill dove. “Trey Grayson,” Paul says in one ad, looking straight into the camera, “Your shameful TV ad is a lie and it dishonors you.” He then makes sly use of his father’s veteran status and proximity to the Pentagon. Paul has also benefited from mainstream conservative support on domestic policy, most notably with Sarah Palin praising him as a defender of limited government. Grayson hopes to force Paul to choose between his antiwar donors and his Republican supporters, but so far the attacks haven’t moved the polls.
On this front at least, Rand Paul seems to be better on defense than his dad.
W. James Antle III is associate editor of The American Spectator. This column first appeared at Reason.com.