Why Did Rand Paul Run Away?

Bill Scher

Two months ago, Sen. Rand Paul declared, “I say everywhere I go I am for immigration reform.”.

Everywhere, with the exception of the Barefoot Bar in Okoboji, Iowa, when caught between anti-immigrant bigot Rep. Steve King and two undocumented immigrants who came to America as children.

Once one of them introduced herself by saying, “I’m a DREAMer,” Paul practically leapt from the table, never to return. King, however, was unafraid and stuck around to argue.

Why did Paul run and King stay?

Because King is proud of his anti-immigration stance and doesn’t care who knows it.

In contrast, Paul’s immigration position is an incoherent mess.

Paul desperately wants to prove he can simultaneously appeal to the right-wing whites already in the Republican camp and newly attract young and Latino voters to the party. But his efforts have been comically ill-fated from the get-go.

Paul’s March 2013 entry in the immigration debate was a belly flop. A day before a planned immigration speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, he gave his prepared remarks to the Associated Press, which promptly reported that the speech included support for giving undocumented immigrants a path to obtaining green cards, which effectively meant providing a path to citizenship. Then Paul flinched, and struck that part of the speech in his actual remarks. And then, his staff inaccurately insisted that his “green card” position was a “path to normalization, not citizenship.”

Three months later, he voted against the bipartisan Senate immigration reform while insisting he really wanted a compromise bill. In a Politico oped, he lobbed wild, demagogic arguments against the bill, making the contradictory argument that the bill was so long that “no one has had time to read” it, yet finding the time to conclude that the bill “makes it easier for convicted criminals gain legal status — gang members, drunk drivers, and sex offenders.” But, he assured, he still wanted reform, it would just have to be “up to the House.”

Since then, he has been willing to talk to TV show hosts about immigration reform, where he doesn’t have to go far beyond platitudes and doesn’t have to sweat much to avoid being pinned down on specifics.

Four months ago on ABC’s This Week, Paul said he was for reform while stopping short of anything associated with citizenship, like voting rights:

I’m for immigration reform, but you have to secure the border first and you have to make sure that we’re not offering the welfare state to those who come. We’re offering work, but we’re not offering, really, voting or the welfare state.

Though on NBC’s Meet The Press two months ago, when pressed about citizenship, he avoided answering directly:

PAUL: I am for pushing, and trying to say to my conservatives across the country, we need some form of immigration reform. Border security first, but then we should have something that allows people who want to work in our country who are here to say we will find a place for you if you want to work, we link it to work because as Republicans.
DAVID GREGORY: And a path to citizenship?
PAUL: Well the path to citizenship is a longer, is a more difficult goal.
GREGORY: But you don’t rule it out as an end game?
PAUL: What I would say is that at this point in time I don’t think any type of immigration reform will get out of Washington that includes a path to citizenship. But I do think that there is a path to a secure border and an expanded work visa program.

Paul’s bobbing and weaving works well enough for the average TV interview. But an actual undocumented immigrant, whose life is literally on the line and doesn’t have to worry about wrapping up before a commercial break, is unlikely to be as deferential to Paul’s inconsistencies and insincerities.

Realizing that his tenuous position can’t bear real scrutiny, Paul ran.

Which raises the question: How can he run for president if he has to run away from real scrutiny?

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