ATLANTA — Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) avoided the RedState Gathering this weekend. While Republican presidential rivals like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee faced down questions about Donald Trump in Atlanta, Paul was touring South Carolina, holding meet-and-greets and dropping into a “Pints for Liberty” happy hour.
But in Goose Creek, S.C., Paul unloaded on Trump, recapitulating the arguments he’d made throughout Thursday night’s presidential debate, saying conservatives were “kidding themselves” if they fell for Trump’s brand of anti-establishment politics.
“I can’t imagine Donald Trump even knowing what a tea party is,” Paul said, referring to the conservative political movement. “Where is our sense? Where is our common sense? This is a guy who was pro-choice before he was pro-life. This is a guy who was liberal before he was conservative. This is a guy who was a Democrat before he was a Republican before he was a Democrat before was an independent before was a Republican again.”
From the podium, Paul did not mention Trump’s ongoing mud fight with Fox News host Megyn Kelly. “Senator Rand Paul believes Mr. Trump’s comments about Megyn Kelly were inappropriate and offensive,” Paul’s spokesman Sergio Gor told The Washington Post. That put Paul alongside every rival for the nomination who’s weighed in on Trump, but the tone of their denunciations has varied wildly.
In a speech at the RedState Gathering in Atlanta, former Florida governor Jeb Bush made a small, joking reference to the Trump fight, before eventually saying that the tycoon needed to apologize. “Do we want to win?” Bush asked. “Do we want to insult 53% of all voters?”
In a statement, former Texas governor Rick Perry — who had previously said that Trump should drop out of the presidential race — said the billionaire had merely proven that he did not have the temperament to serve. “Attacking veterans, Hispanics and women demonstrates a serious lack of character and basic decency, he said.
The tone of the Trump attacks might reflect uncertainty about how real, or how widespread, a backlash will be.
An adviser to one campaign noted that when the news hit, staffers wondered if Trump had finally gone too far. The next morning, they checked Megyn Kelly’s Facebook page, and saw thousands of people continuing to side with Trump against his most sympathetic target.