A. Do we really have to talk about the elections?! Just kidding. In all seriousness, I don’t really believe in the center-right theory. I think we are a very polarized country, with lots of people on the right and lots on the left, with just a few in the center. There are lots of industrious people, who believe in the value of hard work and believe in the American dream. Then there are those who think capitalism doesn’t work, that the free market system is not the best in the world.
Interestingly, the polarization in Washington takes on a different form. There are those of us who believe that we are about to go bankrupt as a country, with all our social programs in the red, while Harry Reid and Dick Durbin are convinced that there is nothing wrong with Social Security and Medicare. Social Security’s own accountant said recently that they will be having problems this year. George Will has written about this recently. This is something we can’t afford to ignore. We have to convince people about the veracity of our argument.
Q. So you think that you have a messaging problem?
A. There is a little bit of that, yes. We need to emphasize that our ideas offer opportunity. We have to combat the notion that’s out there that Republicans think anyone who takes money from the government is a bad person. We don’t believe that, but we have to explain it to the populace.
This is especially evident when it comes to immigration. We have no intention or interest in sending all 12 million illegal immigrants back to Mexico, as some have been led to believe. We are a nation of immigrants and we value our immigrants. We have to extol their assets and show that there is no animus toward anyone. So if we can show our empathy about their situation and explain our positions properly, we can be a lot better off.
Q. What about social issues? There is a theory out there that American society as a whole has become less religious, and along with that has come a more left-leaning worldview. For the first time, we saw a statewide referendum that actually approved of the non-traditional view of marriage. Do you agree with that theory?
A. There is some truth to that. America’s youth has become more liberal on social issues. But there may be something of a libertarian reason as well. For me personally, I hold very traditional views on marriage. At the same time, I don’t believe that I should impose that view on others, and a portion of the electorate could be feeling the same way. Just because I don’t enshrine that view in law does not mean I have to change my beliefs.
Q. During the fiscal cliff negotiations, Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders have indicated a willingness to raise revenue through tax increases on the wealthy. As a Tea Party Conservative, I know you don’t support those ideas. Do you feel that Republicans need new leadership which espouses conservative values?
A. I wouldn’t put it that way. Let me say this: Our primary values that we hold dear are limited government, limited taxation and restraint in spending. If government needs to grow, it should grow only through economic expansion, not through tax hikes. When spending becomes so bloated that it reaches 25% of the GDP, then you know that is the problem. In fact, I believe that tax increases will slow economic growth and end up decreasing the revenue the federal government takes in. So when leaders propose plans that will raise revenue by raising taxes, they are buying into a fallacy that is counterproductive. That is what we oppose.
Q. Who are your allies in the Senate who are most closely aligned with your views?
A. I’ve worked a lot with Mike Lee of Utah and Jim DeMint, the Senator from South Carolina who is now retiring to head the Heritage Foundation.
Q. Are you familiar with Tim Scott, the man selected to replace Senator DeMint?
A. I have dealt with him a little. In fact, we play together on the Congressional baseball team, where Republicans play the Democrats for charity. So I’ve gotten to know him and anticipate working with him in the future.
Q. President Obama advocated new gun laws in response to the Newtown tragedy. It seems that after every incident involving guns, the Democrats call for more gun control and gun advocates are on the defensive. Why aren’t conservatives seizing the narrative and explaining how they feel such tragedies can be prevented?
A. The problem is that it’s a terrible tragedy and it’s a mistake to politicize it. Look, I watched the events with my wife and it’s hard not to cry. It was horrific. But for politicians to prey on the emotions of the people to make a political point is just wrong. I mean, they hadn’t even buried their children yet and people were jumping up and down explaining why it all happened. I’m sure that if you spoke to any mom or dad who has lost a child, they would want to be able to grieve first before political hay is made from their personal tragedy.
Q. Your father, Congressman Ron Paul, is retiring from Congress. You have been widely recognized as the one who will seize the mantle of libertarianism in the halls of government. Will you focus on the same issues your father did, the Federal Reserve and monetary policy? Where do your views diverge from your dad’s?
A. There are many similarities in our positions, which are basically limited government, heed the Constitution, and observe the Ninth and Tenth Amendments, which strengthen states’ rights. There are things which we disagree on, like Iran sanctions, which I voted for but he opposed. But in general, I don’t like to emphasize out differences, mostly because I want a seat at the family dinner table! But the truth is, there will be issues that we disagree on, because we’re different people. My wife and I don’t agree on everything. But on most issues, we are on the same page.
Q. What do you think is the biggest foreign threat facing the United States?
A. I would say it’s radical Islam. I would qualify that by saying that it’s not an existential threat to the United States, because, for the most part, accept for Iran, they are weak militarily and spread out. So, in that sense, it’s not as dangerous as what we faced during the Cold War, when there was the very real threat of nuclear annihilation. But on the other hand, there are some areas where they pose a danger in a different way. They are fanatical and willing to die for their cause, which makes them more dangerous. George Kennan spoke and wrote about containment, and that is the policy that we need to adopt. That can be done in many different ways, through economic sanctions and other means, and sometimes there is no choice but to operate militarily.
Q. What is your position with regard to the threat Iran poses to the United States and to Israel?
A. As I said, I voted for the sanctions against Iran. I believe that they must be stopped. My hope is that the sanctions will make them come to their senses and rejoin the community of nations, but we must exert pressure on them to make that happen.
Q. In your view, what should the U.S.-Israel relationship look like in the coming years?
A. The thing that concerns me most about the U.S. policies with regard to Israel is that I believe we are selling weapons to countries that will end up using them against Israel. We should not be selling F-16s to Egypt when, just recently, President Morsi is standing next to a radical sheikh who is praying and screaming, “Death to Israel,” and Morsi just nods and answers, “Amen.” One of the mistakes that I think is being made in the pro-Israel community is that they have been steadfast in their support they have for weapons sales to countries like Egypt and Pakistan, where there is no love lost toward Israel. This is a big mistake and I worry about its effects.
Q. You are planning a visit to Israel sometime next year. What do you hope to learn on a trip to the Holy Land?
A. Well, we will be visiting with leaders in Israel, Jordan and the West Bank. I hope to hear from those who live through the conflict on a daily basis their views on the subject, which will be enlightening. I am also taking my family with me, so that we can visit the historical sites. I will be accompanied by several people on the trip. Dr. Rich Roberts has been a good friend to me during my career and was instrumental in arranging meetings and making this trip happen.
Q. Finally, let’s return to your mandate as an elected Senator. You were elected during the Tea Party uprising in 2010 and you have been a leading conservative voice during your time in office. Are you concerned about the Tea Party’s influence moving forward? What do you think conservatives should focus on, both policy-wise and in its messaging? Do talk radio and conservative media play a large role?
A. Obviously, the issue we are most concerned about is the debt. The fact that we will be passing on this burden to future generations is unacceptable and something we must address. That has to be our focus going forward.
With regard to messaging, yes, all those things you mentioned are important. But I think that we also have to refine our message. If you look at the election results, you see that there are whole regions of the country that are not responsive to our message. We are simply not getting across to the Northeast, the West and the Great Lakes regions. There is a disconnect there that we must get past or we will never win elections. We don’t need to fight for a larger percentage of the white vote. In my opinion, we have to go in to the Hispanic community, go in to the African-American community, and make our points directly to the people. If you ask the average African-American teenager, they don’t know that the Republican Party is the one that fought for their liberation, that they were instrumental in establishing the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Amendments advocating for their freedom. They don’t know that all the original black lawmakers were Republicans, because they felt at home in the party that worked to set them free. So our message, both political and philosophical, is not out there in a big enough way. That has to change.
Thank you very much.