With less than a week to go before the Iowa caucuses, Kentucky junior U.S. Sen. Rand Paul returned to the prime-time Republican debate stage Thursday to make his closing argument to voters.
Paul, who refused to participate in the last debate after being demoted to the undercard, enjoyed limited skirmishes with his competitors for the GOP presidential nomination in a debate that was largely overshadowed by the absence of frontrunner Donald Trump.
With Trump opting to host his own event in Iowa instead of attending the Fox News Channel debate amid an ongoing feud with the news network, Paul took aim at rivals and fellow freshmen U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, accusing them both of “trying to have it both ways” on key issues.
But the first question for Paul from Fox host Bret Baier was about another politician, Paul’s father and former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul. Baier wondered whether Paul should’ve embraced his father sooner in his listing campaign.
“There’s probably no person I respect more in the country or in recent history than my father,” Paul said. “I think he was probably the most honest man in politics that we’ve ever seen in a generation.”
Paul disputed the premise of the question, telling the Iowa audience that “in no way have I ever said that I don’t embrace my father or love my father or appreciate everything that he’s done for the country.”
At that, Paul took issue with the notion that Cruz was the heir to Ron Paul’s political movement, criticizing the Texas senator for skipping a Senate vote on Paul’s “audit the Fed” legislation.
“I don’t think Ted can have it both ways,” Paul said. “They want to say they’re getting some of the liberty vote, but we don’t see it happening at all. We think we’re going to do very well with the liberty vote.”
Cruz responded by saying that Paul’s legislation “didn’t have the votes to pass, and I had commitments to be at a town hall in New Hampshire.”
“But I look forward to signing that bill into law as president and auditing the Fed and providing needed accountability at the Federal Reserve,” Cruz said.
While Paul went on to mix it up with Rubio over foreign policy, it became clear that Cruz was the primary target of both candidates, with Rubio at one point declaring respect for Paul.
“He believes everything he stands for,” Rubio said. “I do respect Rand.”
When the debate moved to the hot-button issue of immigration, Paul followed Rubio in accusing Cruz of flip-flopping on his hardline immigration stance.
Paul backed up the argument, which was bolstered by video of Cruz apparently saying two different things about immigration reform, that Cruz had been a supporter of finding a way to legalize undocumented immigrants.
“But what is particularly insulting, though, is that he is the kind of saying, ‘Oh, you’re for amnesty, everybody’s for amnesty except for Ted Cruz,’” Paul said. “But it’s a falseness, and that’s an authenticity problem.”
The Iowa caucuses are Tuesday. According to the RealClearPolitics average of polls in the early-voting state, Paul is in fifth place with 3.9 percent support.