Watching the ads that run during Hannity, it's not a great mystery to figure out who the show's target audience is: retirement savings plans, arthritis cream, and of course, Cialis. But speaking to Sean Hannity on Tuesday night—in an interview taped just after he announced his presidential run—Sen. Rand Paul made his pitch to expand the Republican Party beyond the largely older, white party base.
Hannity successfully pushed Paul to nail down his positions on topics from Iran ("We should not trust them with a nuclear weapon ever") to vaccines ("The benefits are a million to one, you should vaccinate your kids").
It's not impossible to guess who Hannity would like to see become president. Just watch the softballs he lobbed to Sen. Ted Cruz at the Conservative Political Action Conference (sample question: "Why does Ted Cruz love America?"). In his considerably tougher interview with Paul, Hannity alluded to Cruz's willingness to lead the government to shut down in order to stand against Obamacare.
"You talk a lot about the Constitution, and returning to first principles. So, two powers that the Congress has: advice and consent, and the power of the purse. Lot of symbolic votes about repealing Obamacare, but when it came to actually standing, shutting down the government or being accused of shutting down the government, Republicans then would back off in those moments. How do you characterize that?" Hannity asked.
Paul pivoted to the debt ceiling. "I think the problem is we all sort of quietly admit defeat before we get started. We all admit, 'Oh, we're not going to follow through very long,' and then we don't have the willpower to do it," he said. "It's kind of like the debt-ceiling vote. To raise the debt ceiling, what I've always said is, let's don't raise it until we do entitlement reform. Let's just hold firm. And people say, 'Oh we would default.' And I say, 'Oh no. Let's take the tax money ... we'll meet our obligations. But then everything else would have to just stop. It would bring the picture finally to the American people: We're spending a million dollars a minute. It's insane."
Below are some highlights from Paul's hour-long interview.
On redefining the term "constitutional conservative":
"We're really good about defending the second amendment. ... I think if we showed equal deference and love for the Fifth and Sixth Amendment and the Fourth Amendment, the right to privacy, all of a sudden there's a whole new group of people—young kids, college kids, African-Americans—that are going to come and say, 'You know what, this is the party I want to belong to again.'"
On his Republican opposition:
"I think you can find good senators and bad senators, good governors and bad governors. When Republicans ask me the question, I say, 'You do remember Jimmy Carter, right?' You know, people think it's automatic that a governor is better than a senator. I think really people should be judged on their entire character, you should get to know them ... whether they have wisdom, whether they're well-read, whether they're reckless, whether they're overly emotional and would act in a way without thinking."
Paul said he believes life begins at conception, but "I also understand that there can be a range of opinions, and to make life better, and to protect more life, I'm willing to go for all kinds of in-between solutions. I think the one thing that we agree on more than others is that a five- or six-pound baby, even in the womb, absolutely has life." Would he make exceptions for rape, incest, or the mother's life? "I've supported both legislation with and without. I want people to know I'm pro-life and open to trying to get incremental change. But I'm also open to promoting that there's something special about life from the very beginning."
"My position has always been we should do little bits of what are doable and what people believe in. Right now, we have 11 million people in the country who are said to be here illegally. If you do nothing, you'll get 11 million more. I think having no immigration reform is a no-starter. The first problem is, you have lawlessness on the border. And there's also a national security risk to people who just walk into our country. The first thing you have to do is secure the border. There's a vast consensus on that. If we had a bill to secure the border, it would pass. But the Democrats, the liberals, the president, they want everything or nothing. They've prevented the border from being secure."
On a $1 million ad campaign criticizing Paul's actions on Iran:
"I would say that almost every element of the ad is a lie. ... I have no idea really who these people are, but I would say they're part of the neocon community. The neoconservatives sort of believe—these are the same people who wanted to give arms to [former Libyan Prime Minister Muammar] Gadhafi and then the next year wanted to topple Gadhafi. They've been on both sides of every war. The only thing consistent about their message is, we should always be at war."
On Sen. Lindsey Graham's comment that "everybody on our side, except maybe Rand Paul, could do better" on the Iran deal:
"Well, almost anyone in the Congress would better defend the Bill of Rights than this particular senator. So, touché."
On whether the Iraq War was a mistake:
"There's a lot of things that are difficult to understand in the Middle East. But the one thing that I think I know is true, when we have toppled secular dictators, we've gotten chaos and the rise of radical Islam. Not only [Saddam] Hussein. Iraq was a disaster. They lost their strong man and we had chaos. We did it to Gadhafi. It happened in Egypt as well. It threatens to happen in Syria. Every time we lose the secular strong man—chaos and radical Islam—and we're less safe."
On foreign drone use:
"I'm not against drones as a military weapon. ... If you're an American, an Arab-American living in Dearborn, Michigan, no one has a right to drop a drone on you. They can accuse you of a crime, but most Arab Americans are just like most Jewish-Americans, or German-Americans, we're innocent until proven guilty."
On his 2007 comments accusing Dick Cheney of pushing the Iraq War to benefit Halliburton:
"That was probably over the top and mean-spirited. I shouldn't have questioned his motives or patriotism. I think he wants what's best for the country. But he's part of a group of Republicans that really believe that war is the answer and don't, I think, have an adequate belief in peace and deterrence through strength."
On the religious-freedom laws in Indiana and Arkansas:
"I think our Founders would be aghast that anyone would think that ... to do something, to perform a ceremony or be part of a ceremony that's against your religious beliefs. That being said, though, I think the law ought to be neutral. I don't think we ought to treat people unfairly, and I'm all for treating people with respect and tolerance. ... I don't think you can have coercion in a free society very well. They seem to be antagonistic. So I would think we ought to try freedom in most of these things. And then also, people ought to understand that people's opinions change through persuasion. And if I really want to convince you to come to my political way of beliefs or my religious beliefs, ... if I go to Africa, I don't evangelize by forcing you to accept my religion. I've got to convince you to. So if people want to convince people that other forms of marriage are fine, they need to do it through persuasion."
On the difference between him and Cruz:
"What I've tried to do is a little bit different. I spent a lot of time over the last two years trying to show that the Bill of Rights is not just the Second Amendment. And I'm not saying he's not in concert with what I'm doing. But I'm saying the difference is I'm really trying to expand that party to new people. And I don't think that it's always just sort of dangling red meat for our people. I want our people to be brand-new people who come in the door, who have never thought about being a Republican and say, 'You know what, I've never heard a Republican say that before. I'm going to listen to you.'"