Rand Paul tries to sell social conservatives on libertarianism

"'Libertarian' ... doesn't mean 'libertine,'" the Kentucky senator says to the religious right

By Elias Isquith

Published February 6, 2014 3:05PM (EST)

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is, from all indications, planning to run for president in 2016. Yet while Tea Party Republicans love Paul in part for his known affinity for libertarianism, that same reputation poses a bit of an obstacle for Paul when it comes to wooing social conservatives, who tend to see libertarianism as morally bankrupt and depraved. If Paul wants to have any shot at being the GOP's nominee in 2016, he'll have to either win over, or at least placate, these still-vital members of the GOP coalition.

That's the context you need to understand to interpret Paul's recent speech for the American Principles Project (APP), a right-wing activist group that holds very conservative views on abortion and same-sex marriage.

While speaking to the APP, the anti-choice Paul tried to assuage his audience's fears by insisting that libertarianism and social conservatism can work together in perfect harmony. “To some, that’s sort of still a bad word,” Paul said of libertarianism. "To others, it’s a word that may expand the party.”

"'Libertarian' ... doesn't mean 'libertine,'" Paul continued. "To many of us, libertarian means freedom and liberty. But we also see that freedom needs tradition."

Paul then tried to tie his support for prison reform as fundamentally Christian in nature. "I think there are things we can and should talk about, as Christians, who believe in forgiveness," Paul said. “I think the criminal justice system should have some element of forgiveness.”

Hoping to seal the deal, Paul then played his trump card: implicitly comparing himself to Ronald Reagan.

“Everybody else told Reagan to shut up, too,” he said. “They said, ‘Shut up and wait your turn.’"

Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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