Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul made a stop at the GOP’s fourth branch of government, Fox News, to unveil his plans to “nullify” President Obama’s 23 executive orders on guns. Having declared “I’m against having a king” on Monday, Paul made his first move to be the Tea Party favorite for president in 2016 with his assault on Obama's guns agenda.
In a “Hannity exclusive” breathlessly titled “Standing Up to the King,” Paul declared his intention to stand up to our newly re-elected president. “I’m afraid that President Obama may have this king complex sort of developing, “ he told a worshipful Sean Hannity. And we all remember what Americans do to kings…
Like all Tea Partiers, Paul swaddled himself in his juvenile notion of what the “founders” wanted. “Our founding fathers were very concerned about having a separation of powers, they didn’t want to let the president to become a king,” he told Hannity. “They wanted to say that Congress was the one to legislate, not the president…We will nullify anything the president does that smacks of legislation.”
Hannity repeatedly gave Paul the opportunity to explain the legislation he was supposedly “unveiling” Wednesday night. But Paul didn’t have any details about what he’d do, except to say that “several” of the president’s executive orders “appear as if he’s writing new law.” It seemed the appearance was booked exclusively so the Kentucky senator could say the words “nullify” and “king.”
The word “nullify,” of course, has an old American history dating back to the founders and the earliest skirmishes over the balance of power between the states and federal government. But it’s most closely associated with repeated Southern efforts to insist the federal government didn’t have the authority to abolish or even regulate slavery in states where it was legal. South Carolina, the capital of secession, campaigned for decades to uphold its right to “nullify” all kinds of federal laws but particularly those pertaining to slavery.
So it’s kind of interesting that the word “nullification” is making a big comeback as we prepare to inaugurate our first black president for his second term. Wyoming GOP lawmakers have pledged to “nullify” federal gun legislation, and so has a Pennsylvania police chief. To be fair, “nullify” is an accurate word choice, but it does have a particular ring – especially alongside claims that the president has a “king complex.”
Hannity asked Paul if Obama’s orders were “unconstitutional,” and the Kentucky senator flatly answered “Yes.” Of course, Paul didn’t think the Civil Rights Act had the constitutional authority to regulate the behavior of private businesses, so we know his conception of what’s constitutional is fairly narrow.
But fear not: Hannity and Paul dismissed claims that the right-wing’s revolt against Obama’s alleged gun grab had anything to do with race. “I don’t think there’s anything racist about this,” Paul said, citing Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s claims that “many of the early cases were white laws trying to take away guns from blacks.”
When Ron Paul played nicely with Mitt Romney last year, it was widely assumed that it was because his son has bigger dreams than being a Kentucky senator. Maybe this is how he’ll step out from the rest of the 2016 pack. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio merely complained that Obama’s moves Wednesday wouldn’t have stopped the Sandy Hook massacre; he didn’t mention “nullification” or call the president a “king.”
And what’s next for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky’s senior senator who fears a Tea Party primary challenge from Paul’s friends? It will be fun to see him react to Paul’s maneuvers. Before Paul’s segment, Karl Rove told Hannity that Obama’s executive orders mainly consisted of collecting data and telling himself to do things he already ought to be doing. Rove didn’t like Obama’s agenda, but he didn’t compare it to the actions of a king.
Still, it’s hard to see Paul as a formidable national contender for anything other than the inheritor of his father’s true-believer protest mantle. In his effort to be slicker and more camera-friendly than his dad, he seems affect-less and homogenized. His “Hannity” star turn featured him in front of what looked like a cheap Las Vegas rendition of a Western sunset, and he faded into it whenever his blowhard host demanded either details or anti-Obama fire. But Fox hosts like Hannity will no doubt offer the junior senator from Kentucky a training platform as long as he denounces the president as a “king.”