Darrell Issa’s all-male contraception panel

Andrew Sullivan thinks that it’s ”hard to believe that the GOP has become so isolated from the American mainstream that they could not find and would not allow a single woman to testify in the Issa hearings today on contraception and religious freedom.” But is it? Is it really?

We’ve all been watching the Republican party deteriorate lo these past five, ten, twenty years. Should anything surprise us anymore?

I share Andrew’s flabbergastedness, even though I probably shouldn’t. One would think that after The Daily Show so effectively outed Sean Hannity’s own all-male contraception and religious freedom panel that the GOP leadership would be quick to change course but…well, let’s just say that women’s issues are not really the Republican Party’s forte. Best leave these things to the men.

Andrew writes:

Added to Santorum’s chief financial backer’s simply staggering and disgustingly sexist recommendation that the only birth control a woman should have is crossing her legs – with the implication that straight men have no responsibility for the matter – and we have really returned to the 1950s, as TPM has pointed out. But that’s who they are now backing: Santorum, the man who wants gays back in the closet and women in their 1950s reproductive place: beneath men without a condom, and denied an abortion thereafter.

Ah, the good ol’ days.

And of course, it will get worse before it gets better. All across the country, women’s access to healthcare is being threatened in one form or another. Virginia is just the latest in a long string of absurd moves by the right to expand government into the bedroom. Because government is only too big if it’s giving poor kids chicken nuggets. When it’s forcing women to have an ultrasound whether or not she wants one it’s no big deal at all.

This is not the right way to go about decreasing the rate of abortions. Universal access to healthcare, prioritizing education, and working toward prosperity for everyone will all lead to fewer abortions in the long run. Cultural and economic forces, not more prying authoritarianism, and yes contraception are more likely to slow the rate of abortion than forced ultrasounds.

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‘George Romney deserved a better son’

George Romney opposed Barry Goldwater's extreme rhetoric

This exchange between Mitt Romney’s father – then Michigan governor George Romney – and Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee at the time, is fascinating.

Actually, it’s especially fascinating given that Ron Paul is in the race against Romney-the-younger this time around, and Paul shares many of Goldwater’s more unfortunate views on the Civil Rights Act. He also has some of the same dubious associations.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think Ron Paul comes off as a heck of a lot less crazy than someone like Santorum, and leaps and bounds more honest than Romney, but the Ron Paul newsletters raise many of the same concerns about Paul’s past choices as George Romney raises about some of Goldwater’s associations.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney displays none of his father’s courage or frankness, none of his honesty whatsoever. The younger Romney comes across as a fake, through and through.

It’s too bad, really. Reading George Romney one does realize how badly this country needs two grown-up parties and not one grown-up party and one party throwing a perpetual temper tantrum.

At a time when the Republican ticket consisted of a man who opposed the Civil Rights Act, George Romney was saying things like: “The assassination of Martin Luther King is a great national tragedy. At a time when we need aggressive nonviolent leadership to peacefully achieve equal rights, equal opportunities and equal responsibilities for all, his leadership will be grievously missed.” George Romney even marched in civil rights marches.

Of course, these days we have Newt Gingrich saying that the first black president is the “food-stamp president” and that black people are all dependent on government largess. And we have Rick Santorum saying that women really ought to be governed by the laws of Christ rather than the laws of America when it comes to their own bodies.

Wouldn’t it be nice if George Romney’s son could speak out against this sort of nonsense the way his father spoke out against similar nonsense several decades ago?

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Gingrich’s gift to the media: a primary bloodbath

"Mitt Romney would only cut the budget this much…"

Newt Gingrich isn’t going to stop, even if Romney beats him bloody in Florida. Don’t get me wrong, the former speaker is finished. He’s not going to topple the party establishment. He doesn’t represent the hope and change he pretends to represent. He’s no transformational figure at all.

The reason the GOP elites dislike Gingrich isn’t because he’s too conservative it’s because he’s a disgrace to the Republican Party. His personal life is an embarrassment and his lobbying for Fannie and Freddie is just one of many toxic items in his record. By comparison, Romney is squeaky clean even with a mini-Obamacare in his past. As far as we know he’s been a faithful husband and father. His Mormonism is problematic, and for some reason his tenure at Bain Capital has him on the defensive, but beyond that his main liability is that people just don’t like him that much. Well when it comes to favorability, Newt scores even worse.

John Heilemann thinks that in spite of all of this, Newt is just crazy enough to keep fighting through the convention:

Pledges to continue the fight unabated in the face of harsh and/or humiliating outcomes are staples of presidential campaigns. And they are also patently meaningless. (Please recall Jon Huntsman’s feigned brio on the night of the New Hampshire primary — and his departure from the race a few days later.) But in Gingrich’s case, he might be serious, so much has he come to despise Romney and the Republican Establishment that has brought down on him a twenty-ton shithammer in Florida, and so convinced is he of his own Churchillian greatness and world-historical destiny.

I suppose this depends largely on whether he can fund a losing campaign or not, in the face of all odds. Andrew Sullivan, no fan of Romney, notes:

I guess I’m biased as I really enjoy a good political bloodbath. And during this campaign, I’ve come to loathe Romney almost as much as his Republican peers do.

Kevin Drum adds:

But here’s the real question: if Romney builds up a big enough head of steam, he’ll declare victory and withdraw from future debates. Without Romney, no one will be much interested in airing the debates, and no one would watch them even if they were aired. So all three of the also-rans would have to keep up their campaigns even though they weren’t getting regular time to yak on national TV and the press corps was no longer taking the race seriously.

Therein lies the rub.

Gingrich’s gift to the media is a long fight – a bloodbath, as Sullivan put it – which keeps all of us pundits happy, and the broadcasters with a steady stream of news. If Santorum bows out and endorses Gingrich, we could see a pretty intense three-way race all the way to the convention. What a glorious bit of persistent news that would be.

It’s ironic, really, that the man who so scorns the media at every possible turn would be the one to give them such a lovely present this election season. Of course, if Romney does sit out the debates that changes the equation to some degree. Debates, however vapid they  may be, spark lots of news. They even change the outcome of races (see e.g. South Carolina.)

Then again, we could all be wrong. Gingrich could bow out suddenly and inexplicably after Florida. He could spin his antagonism toward Romney around 180 degrees and back the former Massachusetts governor. The GOP elites and the conservative movement elites could make nice and rally round the nominee.

How dreadfully boring this would be.

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How Citizens United Helped Newt Gingrich And Hurt The Republican Party

Sheldon Adelson is the man behind Newt Gingrich's anti-establishment success

Newt Gingrich is a Washington insider but he’s not in the good graces of his party’s elite. And yet he manages to stay competitive in the GOP primary.

Jon Chait makes an interesting point about the competitiveness of the Gingrich campaign:

Money is the primary mechanism that parties use to herd voters toward the choices the elites would prefer them to make. The nomination of George W. Bush offers a classic example. Bush and his network had organized so many Republicans to donate so much money that the contest was essentially over well before a vote had been cast. The Bush fund-raising network didn’t involve a handful of billionaires in a room. It required thousands of fairly affluent people working together.

He points to the GOP marching orders on Gingrich:

If Gingrich does win, veteran GOP strategists tell CNN to expect pressure on Senate Minority Leaders Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders to call key GOP donors and ask them not to contribute to Gingrich’s campaign.

Chait notes that ten years ago “this sort of edict would have suffocated Gingrich. But under the present system, Gingrich can simply have a single extremely wealthy supporter, Sheldon Adelson, write a series of $5 million checks.”

Now I draw a very different conclusion than Chait from this. Here’s Chait:

Conservatives may not care much about the good-government problems that this scenario raises. (I care! Imagine a sitting President trying to make a fair judgment about a policy decision impacting the businessman who single-handedly financed his entire election.) But they may come to care about the problems arising from a system that now allows one very, very rich man with very, very poor political instincts to overturn their own best laid plans.

On the other hand, I’m sort of thrilled to see the duopoly threatened. Our two-party system really is a threat to American democracy. No power bases are more entrenched than the Democratic and Republican parties. Money be damned, if the party is going to unite around Bush in 2000 then McCain’s chances are null and void. In 2012, the rules have changed.

Is this the first crack in the GOP’s thick armor – an even more stunning change of fortune than the Tea Party sweep in 2010? I wrote recently about how Citizens United helped take at least a little power away from traditional media corporations. Is it also weakening the two-party grip on the political system? Could this be the beginning of the end for lesser-of-two-evils democracy in America?

To Chait’s fretting over good government, why should we be more concerned with the influence of one billionaire over the decisions of a hypothetical president Newt Gingrich than with the amassed influence of corporations over the Republican party itself? After all, if Gingrich did anything explicitly to help Sheldon Adelson we’d know about it rather quickly. Everyone would be paying close attention. But the machinations of the Republican party itself and the money which keeps the back-scratching mutual between the party and its benefactors is largely opaque – a perpetual process that, like breathing, we barely notice at all.

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Not The Reagan They Have In Mind: The Real Lessons Conservative Candidates Learn From The Gipper

Ronald Reagan's legacy isn't all that conservative, not that it matters.

In his 1966 campaign for governor of California, Ronald Reagan issued what he termed the Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign had capsized two years earlier when Nelson Rockefeller effectively slammed the Arizona Senator as too extreme. The division, Reagan believed, had led to the Republican defeat.

Although he was attempting to unseat a fellow Republican, Reagan followed his own advice in his primary bid against Gerald Ford. After losing the first five states he abandoned the strategy in North Carolina, winning his first victory of the campaign. Attacking one’s opponent, it turns out, is good politics even if it’s a fellow Republican.

This is a lesson that Reagan-admirer Newt Gingrich learned the hard way in Iowa after his campaign took a beating from the Romney campaign.

Gingrich has compared himself to Reagan many times, and like Reagan 1976 switch in North Carolina, Gingrich has gone negative in South Carolina despite promising to run a positive campaign. Gingrich is known for changing his positions, however, and in many ways this is also in keeping with the Reagan legacy. The Republican icon is often evoked by modern-day GOP aspirants to higher office. The complex politician, however, is hardly the conservative saint he’s made out to be on the campaign trail.

As Senator Lindsay Graham told Howard Kurtz earlier this primary season, “Ronald Reagan would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today.”

Either that or he’d be forced to take Mitt Romney’s route and walk back half the things he did as governor of California, and abandon his record as president.

Here are five more Republican “Commandments” that Reagan broke, and why it really doesn’t matter that Reagan live up to his own legacy – or that any Republican candidates live up to his legacy either.

1.  Thou Shalt Not Support Amnesty: Ronald Reagan Signed An Amnesty Bill For 3 Million Undocumented Workers

It’s no surprise that Republicans are struggling to make inroads with Hispanic voters these days. Although the last three Republican presidents have been strong proponents of immigration reform and the positive role immigration plays in this country, the GOP as a party and as a cultural movement is extremely hostile to immigrants. Nativism has been more popular than ever during the recession, with bills like Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 aimed at cracking down on undocumented workers popping up across the country.

At a debate earlier this year Jon Huntsman said that if “President Reagan was here he would speak to the American people and he would lay out in hopeful, optimistic terms.” But Reagan was more than optimistic about immigrants describing America as a shining city on a hill where all who yearned for freedom could come and prosper.  In 1986, he signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which legalized close to 3 million undocumented immigrants.

In today’s GOP race, virtually every candidate has bandied about the phrase ‘amnesty’ as though it were a dirty word, pandering to the nativist sentiment in the GOP rather than looking at the economic benefits of increased immigration to the United States or discussing seriously the ways we could reform our immigration system.

2. Thou Shalt Not Promote Class Warfare: On Economics, Reagan Advocated Low Taxes and Free Trade but Supported Anti-Poverty Measures

Unlike Rick Perry, who has complained many times during the campaign that most Americans pay no taxes, Reagan was a major proponent of the very tax policies that helped get the working poor off the income tax rolls. As Derek Thompson points out, “Reagan repeatedly praised plans for booting the poor from federal income taxes.” He supported the Earned Income Tax Credit and worked to make low-income families entirely exempt from paying income taxes. And while Newt Gingrich’s food-stamp-king language mirrors Reagan’s welfare-queen rhetoric, Reagan wanted to help the poor not just demonize them.

Reagan was also a union leader and had a deep sympathy for workers that is nowhere to be found in much of today’s GOP. The Wisconsin battle over workers’ rights to collectively bargain illustrates just how far the Republican party has strayed from its roots. While Reagan was able to capture a large segment of working class Democrats thanks to his appeal to workers, today’s Republican party is better suited for the very rich and for social conservatives.

“Collective bargaining,” Reagan once said, “has played a major role in America’s economic miracle. Unions represent some of the freest institutions in this land. There are few finer examples of participatory democracy to be found anywhere.” Of course Reagan became union-buster-in-chief as president, but his message still appealed to working class voters.

3. Thou Shalt Not Raise Taxes: Reagan Raised Taxes Seven Out Of Eight Years In Office

These days, the Fourteenth Commandment of the Republican Party may as well be “Thou Shalt Not Raise Taxes.” Indeed, taxes have become as hot as any of the culture war issues from abortion to gay marriage, especially after the 2008 financial collapse. Reagan campaigned on low taxes and less government regulation, but over the course of his presidency he raised taxes 11 times.

Today’s GOP is much more anti-tax than Reagan was, largely thanks to the hard work of anti-tax crusaders like Grover Norquist. While Reagan promised to shrink government, famously quipping that government isn’t the solution, it’s the problem, his record is much worse than Democrats like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Carter doesn’t get much credit for the many industries deregulated under his tenure, but he did far more than Reagan to get government out of the economy. Carter deregulated everything from trucking to airlines to home brewing. Meanwhile Clinton’s welfare reform was much more effective at shrinking the role of the federal government than anything carried out under the Reagan administration.

4.  Thou Shalt Not Cut Defense Spending: Reagan’s Long-Term Goal Was Nuclear Disarmament

In his famous “Shining City” speech Reagan said, “We are not a warlike people. Nor is our history filled with tales of aggressive adventures and imperialism, which might come as a shock to some of the placard painters in our modern demonstrations. The lesson of Vietnam, I think, should be that never again will young Americans be asked to fight and possibly die for a cause unless that cause is so meaningful that we, as a nation, pledge our full resources to achieve victory as quickly as possible.”

While Reagan was not afraid to join the arms race against the Soviet Union, his long-term goal was to bring about an end to militarism and the threat of nuclear war. Disarmament loomed large in Reagan’s thinking, and he didn’t always make the best choices in his efforts to achieve that goal. Yet compared to modern-day Republicans, Reagan sounds like a peacenik.

Despite a few notable exceptions, few Republicans want to cut defense spending. Many have even advocated defense spending as a way to create jobs despite rhetoric claiming that government can’t create jobs.  A few GOP officials have called for a scaled back defense budget – Ron Paul first among them, though Tom Coburn and others have also made favorable recommendations to the idea. But by and large, the Republican party gives us little reason to believe that they care about disarmament or military prudence.

5. Thou Shalt Demonize Welfare At Every Turn: Reagan Saved Social-Security

Not only did Reagan add 61,000 jobs to the federal workforce – both Obama and Clinton have actually cut back federal jobs – he saved Social Security and raised the payroll tax. Faced with collapse, Reagan bailed out Social Security to the tune of $165 billion.

Compare this to Rick Perry who called the program a “monstrous lie.” Perry has also claimed that Social Security is unconstitutional. Republicans of all stripes have advocated privatizing the retirement insurance program, but it’s unlikely that after George W. Bush’s failed attempt any will give it a real try in the future, despite the fantasy budgets of men like Paul Ryan.


So what should Republicans take from Reagan’s spotty record of flip-flops and broken promises? The presumptive front-runner in the current GOP primary is Mitt Romney, a man with his own record of switching political views to catch favorable political winds. Newt Gingrich is like Reagan only in that he has promoted far more often the expansion of government rather than the shrinking of the state, whatever his over-the-top rhetoric would suggest.

In the end, Reagan’s far more liberal-than-reported legacy will mean only one thing to GOP hopefuls: it doesn’t matter what they do or say or what policies they support. As long as they say the right things to drum up support from the conservative base, their records are as unimportant as Reagan’s. If Reagan can raise taxes, expand the federal government, save the New Deal, and work to bring about nuclear disarmament, disappointing countless conservatives in the process, and yet still become the president who conservatives admire most, why should Republican candidates today act any differently?

George W. Bush certainly learned the lessons of Ronald Reagan, running up the federal deficit by over $4 trillion dollars during his term. He also abandoned anti-immigration advocates and social conservatives, doing as little as Reagan to overturn Roe v. Wade and failing to enact any sort of meaningful immigration reform.

Of course, the fact that Republicans only talk about shrinking government and then fail to do so when in office doesn’t really bother me. The dishonesty rankles, but the failure to scale back the federal government is way down on my list of priorities. What bothers me, and what should bother conservative and liberal voters alike, is not that this anti-government rhetoric isn’t matched with small government actions. The real problem is that Republicans have learned so much disdain for government on the campaign stump that they’ve forgotten how to actually do the hard work of governing once elected to office.

If nothing else, the eight years of Bush help illustrate how an administration more concerned with playing war abroad than actually governing here at home can at once expand the federal government, wrack up trillions of debt, and make the state far less efficient all at the same time.

The lesson of Reagan’s gilded legacy is clear: the talk is far more important than the walk for today’s GOP. As long as you abide by the talking points, the troops will fall in line. How else to explain the success of Mitt Romney, or the unexpected popularity of the once-disgraced Newt Gingrich? The spirit of Reagan does indeed live on in the modern Republican party. It’s just not the Reagan they have in mind.

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Why I’m Rooting For Gingrich In South Carolina

Aspiring child janitors everywhere will not forgive Gingrich if he drops out after South Carolina.

Newt, this is not the former speaker we know and love. You don’t give up on politics, just on marriages!

Newt Gingrich came clean Tuesday afternoon, admitting that if he can’t win this state’s primary on Saturday, he probably can’t win the Republican nomination at all.

“If I don’t win the primary Saturday, we will probably nominate a moderate,” the former House speaker said, referring to Mitt Romney. “And the odds are fairly high he will lose to Obama.”

The question is whether Gingrich endorses Santorum if the frothy ex-Senator stays in the race after a South Carolina loss.

I suppose that depends on whether or not all this bad press actually puts a dent in Romney’s titanium exoskeleton. The fact that Perry, Santorum, and Gingrich all failed to get on Virginia’s GOP primary ballot may be a moot point if they all run out of money by March.

Obama must be sleeping like a damn baby these days. All these Super PACs are doing his job for him as the Republican field shreds itself to pieces. They’ll all line up like good soldiers behind Romney in the end (Ron Paul is a wild card on this point) but the damage will have been done.

Perhaps I just have a morbid fascination with Republican primaries, but I really do hope Gingrich or Santorum beats Romney so that this whole lovely mess gets dragged out even further.

(P.S. Totally unrelated random thought: why should we settle for just one president? We pay the president way too much. We could hire like 2,000 kids to do that job instead and teach them about hard work and responsibility all at the same time. Extend this logic to congress and you’ve not only saved money, you’ve dragged thousands of kids out of unemployment.)

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A Young, Modern Republican Party? What’s Wrong With Voting Democrat?

So long as the Republican Party is the party of old, white men we won’t get guys like Jon Huntsman at its helm (though, as Larison points out, he’s hardly as modern and charming as we’d all like to think.)

Ben Smith writes:

The party Huntsman imagined — modernizing, reforming, and youthful — could still be born. That might be the reaction to a second smashing defeat at Obama’s hands, or that might be where President Romney takes his re-election campaign. But it’s now hard to see Huntsman leading that change. He bet, too early, on a fantasy, and ran for the nomination of a party that doesn’t exist, at least not yet. His decision tonight to drop out just marks his recognition of that fact.

We already have the Democratic Party. In it there are lots of free market types, lots of good-government types, lots of people in tune with youthful voters, etc. I’d like more civil libertarians in the Democratic Party, personally, but I see no reason why we need a more youthful modernized GOP when the Democratic Party is already leaps and bounds closer to that mark.

What we need is more focus on civil liberties issues from our liberal leaders (though I welcome civil liberties being embraced on the right as well.) We need more Ron Wydens and Russ Feingolds. I see the Democrats moving toward a sort of populism that isn’t necessarily bad but that doesn’t particularly excite me either. It’s a response to Tea Party populism on the right. But fighting fire with fire isn’t always the best move. And since I’m a market liberal, a lot of progressive populism rankles me.

Obama has already illustrated perfectly well that if we want to actually contain the size of government through smart policies the Democrats are a better choice than Republicans. Bush grew government in all the worst ways. As far as I’m concerned, Obama is a competent enough politician and president but hasn’t done nearly enough to constrain those bad areas of the state that Bush let out of the box. A “modern, youthful, GOP” wouldn’t do any better, and would likely do worse. Part of the appeal of Ron Paul is his willingness to scale back those parts of the government which are illiberal and violent. What we need to do is work to cultivate a Democratic Party that believes we ought to scale back the military, end illiberal detainment and surveillance policies, and write off the war on drugs as an expensive disaster.

There are progressive politicians out there who do care about these things, just not enough of them. A primary attempt at Obama from the left flank would have been extremely stupid politically, of course, but we do need to find other ways to push the needle in the direction of expanded civil liberties and economic freedom and a more efficient welfare state. (Note: I do not necessarily mean a scaled back welfare state, but one which is economically efficient. I do think that for all its flaws the ACA moves us in that direction though I will go into more detail on that in the future.)

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Will Ron Paul Endorse Mitt Romney To Beat Obama?

Could Ron Paul endorse Mitt Romney?

Anti-tax advocate (fanatic? champion? crusader?) Grover Norquist says that a Ron Paul endorsement of Romney could make or, if he withheld it, break Romney’s presidential chances.  ”Ron Paul is the only candidate for the Republican nomination whose endorsement will matter to Mitt Romney,” he writes. “It is the only endorsement that will bring votes and the only endorsement, if withheld, that could cost Romney the general election. If Ron Paul speaks at the GOP convention (as he was not invited to do in 2008), the party will be united and Romney will win in November 2012. If Ron Paul speaks only at his own rally in Tampa, Florida (as happened at the 2008 GOP convention in Minnesota) the party will not be at full strength.”

Conor Friedersdorf runs through three possible scenarios in which Paul endorses Romney: 1) he gets some big concession from Romney; 2) he does it for his son, Rand whose own presidential ambitions may depend on Ron Paul’s allegiance to the party; or 3) beating Obama is just that important.

On point one, Conor points out that nobody can trust Romney so this is a very unlikely reason Paul would have to endorse him. However, this is the only of the scenarios that is at all likely. “If we don’t pull it off, and we’re not in first place, yes, that would be a good goal,” Paul said, before the New Hampshire vote. “I run to win, and I have won a lot, but we also want to help direct the party and the country in a certain way, so that would be a very positive strategy to have an influence in the party.” What will this mean? In what way does Paul plan on brokering out his influence?
 On point two, I find it unlikely that Rand Paul’s success in a future election would depend on Ron Paul’s allegiance whatsoever. He’s already supported candidates from other parties, endorsing the Constitution Party candidate, Chuck Baldwin. Paul is so far outside the mainstream of his party, up until now they’ve likely preferred he endorses someone else. And finally, on point three I agree entirely with Conor. On the issues that matter to Paul it’s not at all clear whether Romney would be any better and he could possibly be much worse than the current president.

So no, Ron Paul isn’t going to endorse Romney unless he has some trick up his sleeve that we aren’t privy to. Not only that, but Paul would risk seriously upsetting his own base and support with the endorsement of someone like Romney. Since he’ll have a bunch of delegates by the time the convention roles around, this will make for some really intense politics in the coming months. Only Paul has the national organization and war chest to go toe-to-toe with Romney for the long haul. That he’s the sort of Republican who can at once run a close second, maybe even better, and not be likely to endorse the guy that wins is a pretty big deal. We certainly don’t see elections like this every year (or four, as the case may be.)

Of course, it’s possible he’ll endorse Gary Johnson if Johnson takes the Libertarian party nomination. But the question of how much influence Paul wants over his own party makes me wonder. If Paul really does want to steer the Republican ship, it’s possible Johnson is just very much out of luck.

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