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June 26th, 2017

Insight

In latest debate, of course it was Rand Paul

John Kass

By John Kass

Published Nov. 13, 2015

It was Rand Paul who asked the most important question at this week's Republican presidential debate.

What is a fiscal conservative?

Naturally, since Paul was the one asking, it was largely ignored by the drones of conventional wisdom and by the other candidates.

But the campaign is about to move into that odd phase where Americans actually, formally, begin to express their preferences in states like New Hampshire and Iowa.

And the heads of Republican voters have been stuffed to bursting with crazed Imperial Donald Trumpisms and Dr. Ben Carson's biographical epiphanies, which give me a warm cuddly feeling but have little to do with the balance of power or governing a nation.

So the remarks from the senator from Kentucky are worth repeating.

What is a conservative? Hint: With the national bipartisan Combine punching holes in the debt ceiling, a conservative isn't about buying more smart bombs and building more aircraft carriers.

"We're the richest, freest, most humanitarian nation in the history of mankind," Paul said in his closing statement from the GOP debate stage in Milwaukee. "But we also borrow a million dollars a minute. And the question I have for all Americans is, think about it, can you be a fiscal conservative if you don't conserve all of the money? If you're a profligate spender, you spend money in an unlimited fashion for the military, is that a conservative notion? We have to be conservative with all spending, domestic spending and welfare spending. I'm the only fiscal conservative on the stage."

I thought Ohio Gov. John Kasich -- the whiniest candidate since Al Gore -- would interrupt and complain he hadn't received a trigger warning before Paul's comments. But for once Kasich kept his mealy mouth shut.

Sen. Ted Cruz, an excellent debater, is a conservative and tough minded, but his fiscal plans promise too much, and there's a whiff of Elmer Gantry in the man. And I've said this before but still: How does a guy who looks exactly like Count Chocula get elected?

At least if he were the nominee, he'd drive media liberals absolutely insane. Their left thumbs would fall off from Snarky Tweet Syndrome, and they wouldn't be able to button their clothes, so they'd have to go naked in their newsrooms. So, there's that.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is the new darling of the GOP establishment, now that Jeb Bush is an overripe banana. But talking isn't everything. Rubio's plans of offering gigantic tax credits to families with children while spending gigantic sums to buy war toys has big government Republican written all over it in red crayon.

Paul was the fiscal conservative on the debate stage, which is probably why he's so pointedly ignored by Fox News.

And he pegged Rubio's big government initiatives -- the child credits and the military spending -- at about $1 trillion each.

PAUL: "Marco! Marco! How is it conservative -- how is it conservative to add trillion-dollar expenditure for the federal government that you're not paying for?

RUBIO: "Because ..."

PAUL: "How is it conservative?"

RUBIO: "... are you talking about the military, Rand?"

PAUL: "How is it conservative to add a trillion dollars in military expenditures? You cannot be a conservative if you're going to keep promoting new programs that you're not going to pay for."

RUBIO: "We can't even have an economy if we're not safe ..."

We can't have an economy if we're not safe? Marco, Marco, Marco, is that presidential or panic?

Still, of those on the stage, Paul, Cruz and Rubio were the three most impressive candidates, with Paul out in front because he's the one talking like a grown-up, and because, as one commentator said, he finally "took the lemon out of his mouth."

The other candidates weren't really that impressive. Trump and Carson were playing it too safe to bring much.

It should be obvious now that Trump, the iconic narcissist, is beginning to fade. The more he's required to talk like a potential president rather than some tough guy from New York cracking jokes, the more his weaknesses show. He diminished himself in Milwaukee.

Trump railed against China! China! China! for being part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal between the U.S. and 11 other nations. Trump said China was this and China was that until Paul addressed moderator Gerard Baker, editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal.

"Hey Gerard," Paul said. "You know, we might want to point out that China's not part of this deal."

Carson spoke well, albeit briefly, and had a nice, studied, well-written closing statement. But when he discusses foreign policy, don't you get the feeling his supporters are like parents at an ice rink, watching their children skate for the first time, waiting for the kid to fall and bonk his head on the ice?

Bush can't turn this around. Read my lips. No new Bushes. Rubio is the new kid in establishment GOP town.

And all Carly Fiorina and Kasich are doing is campaigning for the warm bucket of (spit) that is the vice presidency.

Kasich was insufferable. Fiorina seemed so eager for battle with Russia that I could see her in a scythed chariot, waving a spear like fierce warrior Queen Boudica of the ancient Britons, rallying her people to fight Vladimir Putin's legions. Of course, it ended badly for the real Queen Boudica.

And it might end badly for Paul, too, if primary voters can't tell the difference between a conservative and a big government Republican.

But Paul won this one too.

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John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune who also hosts a radio show on WLS-AM.

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