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Rand Paul auditions for role as voice of reason

Rand Paul said today that he would support a short-term funding measure “to keep the government open while we negotiate.” The negotiations Paul has in mind would take place in “conference committee.” Paul would put a time limit of a week or two on these negotiations.

What are we to make of the Senate’s most prominent libertarian breaking ranks with Republican hardliners in the name of reopening the federal government?

I think it shows that Paul believes, as I do, that Republicans are holding a losing hand in the shutdown showdown. (This, I assume, is also how the Democrats see the situation, which means they may not amenable to Paul’s idea for halting the shutdown). Paul fears that Republicans will take a hit over the shutdown, and would like to avoid or minimize avoid the hit. If he can’t accomplish this for the Party, he would like at least to avoid being hit himself.

In advocating an end (for now) to the shutdown in the name of reaching a compromise, Paul risks being left behind (or maybe I should say further behind) by Ted Cruz in the affections of the Tea Party. But he positions himself to benefit at Cruz’s expense if the shutdown results in a major setback for Republicans.

Beyond that, he gets to sound like a problem-solver, rather than a firebrand. Indeed, the CNN host to whom Paul made his comment about negotiating told him that it “might be the first glimmer of hope I’ve heard all morning.”

Here is a taste of the pitch Paul made on CNN in response to a question about what he thinks of Democrats who believe anti-Obamacare Republicans are “beginning from an irrational bargaining position”:

If you and I disagree and I start out by calling you irrational, we’re not going to get anywhere. Obviously when we disagree, we don’t like the premise of the other person’s position. But the thing is, funding is a function of Congress. So, a law is passed, but how we fund it and how we modify that law over time — it doesn’t mean from here till the end of time Obamacare is everything that the president wanted it to be.

The president has been modifying his own plan over the past several months. Should Congress not be part of that? Some of us think it’s illegal for the president to do it without our authority. So, really, I think we should be part of the mix and he shouldn’t get 100 percent of Obamacare as he wants it without any input from Republicans as well as the rest of the country.

Doesn’t that sound reasonable? Certainly, it has more crossover appeal than much of what I’ve heard from Ted Cruz.

I suspect that Marco Rubio would like to be occupying the statesman-sounding rhetorical ground with Rand Paul. But having sided with the Democrats on immigration reform, Rubio probably feels obliged to follow the hardliners on the shutdown.

As for Paul, though he may be sincere, I think he’s using the shutdown showdown as part of his ongoing effort to appear mainstream. I’m anything but a fan of the Kentucky Senator, but I gave him high marks for his political instincts.

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