Two presidential candidates dropped in on Nevada during the past three days, and they couldn’t have been more different.
One wants a robust American foreign policy, with force projection across troubled lands. The other wants U.S. forces to get out and stay out.
One wants to reform the tax code. The other wants to scrap it entirely and start over.
One touts his executive experience, his “been there, done that, got the T-shirt” resume. The other is a scrappy up and comer who packs people into a warm ballroom without chairs, but with plenty of cheers.
And they’re both members of American political dynasties, after a fashion.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush rallied a crowd in Henderson on Saturday, touting his economic record in the Sunshine State and predicting that, under his administration, the country could reach 4 percent economic growth per year. (Experts are highly skeptical of that number, however, and the Florida numbers Bush touts were driven in part by more people moving to the state and the housing bubble.)
“I think we need to elect someone who’s actually done it,” Bush told the audience.
And, in a shot at some of his rivals for the nomination, Bush summed the point of his campaign thus: “Don’t you want to win? I’m here to win. I’m not here to make a point.”
Although Bush initially stumbled over questions about the Iraq War started by his brother, President George W. Bush, he didn’t hesitate to call for robust American involvement overseas. “It is not the time to pull back. It is not the time to create a void,” he said.
Bush lauded Ronald Reagan as a model for foreign policy. “Remember peace through strength? That’s what we need again,” Bush said. “An America where our friends know we’ve got their back, and where our enemies fear us again.”
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., had a somewhat different take while addressing supporters in a jam-packed ballroom not far from the Strip on Monday night.
Paul, a physician, dismissed the idea of U.S. intervention, saying things in Iraq and Libya are now worse than before the U.S. went to war into those countries. Ironically enough, Paul said, by knocking down secular strongmen, the chaos of ancient religious warfare once held at bay has now exploded into the open with disastrous results.
Quoting a Navy SEAL with whom he’d recently dined, Paul said America does a good job defending its interests but stumbles when it tries to build nations on foreign soil.
That wasn’t the only point of contention between the two candidates.
Standing behind a podium festooned with 70,000 pages meant to represent the U.S. tax code, Paul called for radical reform. “We need to cut taxes and eliminate this mess of a tax code,” he said. “Scrap the whole thing and let’s start over.”
Paul explained his philosophy in simple terms: It’s about limiting the size of government and constraining its actions, both at home and abroad. “I say, starve the beast.”
Paul reminded the crowd that he stood for a 10-hour filibuster opposing NSA bulk data collection of Americans’ cellphone calls. He reminded the crowd that Jeb Bush has said the only thing he likes about President Barack Obama’s administration is the continuation of the NSA program.
Paul, in a whirlwind rhetorical tour of the Bill of Rights, also mentioned two issues of import to Nevada in recent years: eminent domain reform and asset forfeiture abuse. “Private property should never be taken from one private owner and given to another private owner by the government,” he said. On asset seizure, in which government takes property before any trial is held, Paul said we need to tell the government, “in America, you’re innocent until proven guilty.”
But Paul told his supporters Republicans should support all constitutional rights with equal vigor. “When we become the party that protects the Sixth Amendment [right to speedy public trial] as much as we do the Second Amendment, we are going to rock, we are going to roll and we are going to be the dominant party.”
And the last few days have shown one thing: There’s still plenty of disagreement about the issues within that party.
Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.