Left-wing Democrats have been pummeling the party’s presumptive nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton, with something close to abandon, and there has been a good deal of focus on what effect some of the more prominent progressive voices are likely to have on her campaign for the presidential nomination.
Clinton’s first declared challenger, the Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, refers to himself as a Democratic Socialist and inhabits a political realm far to Clinton’s left, where Big Business is automatically suspect and the government has a moral obligation to do more for the poor and unfortunate. From that vantage point, he regularly takes potshots at Clinton.
While not a candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is also pressing Clinton from the left by highlighting transgressions of the financial industry and the shortcomings of President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
Interestingly, though, one Republican candidate whose positions on a handful of issues are in line with and important to much of the Democratic base, could also attack her from the left. On issues like domestic surveillance, foreign military entanglements and criminal justice reform, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) can go at Clinton from a direction usually reserved for her fellow Democrats.
Paul has been a vocal opponent of the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program, which he has called “one of the worst parts of the Obama administration.” Key elements of the USA Patriot Act, which have been used to justify the domestic surveillance program, are due to expire at the end of the month, and Paul is threatening to filibuster any attempt to renew three of the provisions most essential to the program.
The issue of projecting U.S. power overseas through military force is perhaps the trickiest for Paul: He has to find a sweet spot that will differentiate him from other Republicans while not completely alienating the base.
Paul has, in fact, had to moderate his stance somewhat in the past year. In a speech in New York last fall, he sought to placate members of the GOP who tend to favor an aggressive foreign policy by repeatedly invoking Ronald Reagan and promising that he does, indeed, think that sometimes the U.S. needs to intervene militarily overseas.
At his core, though, Paul remains wary of military adventurism. He has made it plain that he will attack Clinton both for her initial support of the Iraq invasion in 2003 when she was a senator from New York, and more recently for advocating involvement in the Libyan civil war.
“Libya was a mistake,” he said in New Hampshire last month. “One thing that is probably true in the Middle East, every time we have toppled a secular dictator, a secular strong man, we’ve gotten chaos and the rise of radical Islam.”
The bonus for Paul is that in criticizing Clinton over Libya, he also gets to remind voters about the 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi in which four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, were killed. Republicans, Paul among them, have repeatedly tried to blame then Secretary of State Clinton for the events there.
Finally, on criminal justice reform, Paul can mount a credible case that he was a strong proponent of reining in a system that has gone too far well before Clinton took an interest in the issue. For years, Paul has bemoaned the fact that relatively minor drug offenses can derail an individual’s life for decades. He has attacked mandatory minimum sentencing and a U.S. corrections system that imprisons far more people on a per capita basis – especially those from minority and poor communities – than any other developed country in the world.
Rightly or wrongly, Paul will also likely tie Clinton to the Omnibus Crime Bill of 1994, which her husband, Bill Clinton, signed during his first term as president. The law enacted harsher penalties for many crimes, helping to drive today’s high incarceration rates.
After the riots in Baltimore last month following the death of an unarmed man in police custody, Clinton gave an impassioned speech about the impact those incarceration rates have on urban neighborhoods and the need for reform. It was an effective speech, well received by many on the left.
Afterward, though, Paul sent out a press release “welcoming” Clinton to the cause. “Not only is Hillary Clinton trying to undo some of the harm inflicted by the Clinton administration, she is now emulating proposals introduced by Senator Rand Paul over the last several years, and we welcome her to the fight.”