Those hoping to see the feisty U.S. Sen. Rand Paul – the fighter who challenged front-runner Donald Trump and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at Thursday’s GOP presidential debate – in Rock Hill on Friday found a different candidate.
They got the evenhanded, scholarly Paul – different, but no less passionate than the man viewers saw Thursday.
The Kentucky senator talked about his constitutionally based campaign to rein in the federal government and his plans to bring more diversity to the Republican Party. His message, he said, will attract votes from Democrats and independents.
“I don’t shrink from a fight,” Paul said Friday of his exchange with Trump, which came just minutes into the debate. “I had to get my message out and things needed to be said.”
After Trump refused during Thursday’s debate to rule out a third-party bid for the White House if he didn’t win the GOP nomination, Paul shouted from across the stage, as many in the audience booed Trump.
“This is what’s wrong!” Paul said Thursday. “He’s already hedging his bets.”
Trump is the consummate Washington insider, Paul said a day later, rather than the outsider Trump portrays himself to be.
“He is part of the problem,” Paul said during a campaign stop at Physicians Choice Laboratory Services in the Riverwalk Business Park.
Whether it is a politician selling access or a person or business buying access, Paul said, “either is equally bad. Isn’t that what’s wrong with Washington?”
But it was Paul’s exchange with Christie, the former U.S. attorney for New Jersey, that was perhaps the most tense moment of the debate, clearly showing a difference between the two.
On the bulk collection of cellphone records by the National Security Agency, Paul said there was “no evidence” the program actually worked. He said he supports the collection of legally secured individual records.
He cited the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing as an example of when the system should have worked, “but there was a breakdown in people talking to each other.”
During the debate, Paul said he wants “to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from innocent Americans.”
Christie didn’t hold back.
“That’s a completely ridiculous answer,” he said. “ ‘I want to collect more records from terrorists, but less records from other people.’ How are you supposed to know...?”
Paul shot back that the proper action is to get a warrant.
“Listen, Senator,” Christie responded. “You know, when you’re sitting in a subcommittee, just blowing hot air about this, you can say things like that. When you’re responsible for protecting the lives of the American people, then what you need to do is to make sure… you use the system the way it’s supposed to work.”
On Friday, Paul reiterated that bulk collection of phone records was an invasion of privacy that violated the Bill of Rights, but he said individual records collected based on suspicion were OK.
Paul said he wants a “Bill of Rights that’s for everybody.”
Those words resonated with Christopher Noska and John Rieber, University of North Carolina at Charlotte students who came to Rock Hill to hear Paul speak.
Noska said he was surprised that Paul was attacked at the debate for supporting the Constitution.
Politicians “pick and choose” what they like from the document, Noska said, but Paul “defends everything” in it.
To fight poverty and joblessness, particularly in America’s big cities, Paul has proposed drastic changes to the tax code that leave “more money in these communities. . . by the billions.”
The cornerstone of his proposal is a 14.5 percent tax on individual and business income and on income from investments. The current top rate for individuals and many small businesses is near 40 percent. The corporate rate tops out at 35 percent.
He would not collect payroll taxes from workers, adding that to their pay – an idea endorsed by Robert Lundy of Charlotte, who also attended Friday’s campaign event.
Lundy said the proposed tax code changes would help his family of two girls, with another child on the way. Lundy said he supports Paul, “because he is consistent.”
The proposed flat tax also would mean that more money could be spent locally and not sent to Washington, Paul said, where the administration hands it out to “cronies, friends and contributors.”
Tax reform is part of a three-pronged effort in which Paul also would:
▪ Give parents of every child vouchers to pay for their education, allowing them to attend the school of their choice.
▪ Changes to the criminal justice system and its war on drugs, which has focused on incarcerating drug abusers for years. Paul said people should not go to jail for non-violent drug crimes.
Friday’s visit was Paul’s second to Rock Hill this year.