Rand Paul’s prospects of ever being president are on a par with the Philadelphia Phillies’ odds of winning the pennant. If he somehow makes it to the Oval Office, I will personally climb Mt. Everest and chisel his curly locks into the rocks.
On Tuesday, he joined Ted Cruz on the growing Republican roster of doomed losers. I say this not because he’d be anathema to the general electorate - although that’s certainly true, given his libertarian philosophical hostility to civil rights laws and all kinds of federal help - but because he won’t get the GOP nomination in the first place.
The big reason is that he comes off like a lightweight blown by the wind.
Paul rose to prominence as a rare Republican skeptic of military interventionism, but lately he has tried to “evolve,” to make himself more palatable to the party’s predominant hawks. Problem is, the hawks don’t believe him; they think he’s just a flip-flopping phony. Meanwhile, many of his original supporters are ticked off; they think he has abandoned his principles. Here’s libertarian activist Justin Raimondo: “For the life of me, I can’t figure out what he really believes - where he really stands, especially when it comes to foreign policy.”
Raimondo got that right. Paul already has a rhetorical record that is Romneyesque.
In 2011, as a newbie senator, he said he wanted to “eliminate foreign aid to Israel,” so that Israel could “support itself without the heavy hand of U.S. interests.” But a Republican who seeks the presidential nomination cannot afford to say such a thing, lest he incur the wrath of neoconservatives and Sheldon Adelson. So, in 2014, Paul insisted that he had never argued for the elimination of foreign aid to Israel: “I haven’t really proposed that in the past” and “I haven’t proposed targeting or eliminating any aid to Israel.”
In 2007, while defending his father Ron, he criticized the neoconservatives as warmongers. He said that he was “against the Iran war, the one that hasn’t started yet.” He said that “Iran is not a threat.” But this month, he insisted that Iran is a threat and that “any deal must make clear that Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon.”
Indeed, back in January he advocated for diplomacy with Iran - and mocked the GOP’s war lobby: “Are you ready to send ground troops into Iran? Are you ready to bomb them?....I’m a big fan of trying to exert and trying the diplomatic option as long as we can. If it fails, I will vote to resume sanctions and I would vote to have new sanctions. But if you do it in the middle of negotiations, you’re ruining it.” Then, two months later, he signed Tom Cotton’s Iran letter, which was a blatant bid to ruin the negotiations.
There’s more. In June 2014, he argued in a Wall Street Journal guest column that we shouldn’t fight ISIS: “Why should we choose a side, and if we do, who are we really helping?” Then, within months, he swiveled his stance and proposed that Congress declare war on ISIS. And he opposed airstrikes on ISIS until he reversed himself.
He used to rebuke America for “unlimited involvement in foreign wars.” But last October he said that “America cannot disengage from the world,” and that despite the pitfalls of being involved, “ultimately we must be willing and able to defend our country and our interests.”
So he ends up satisfying nobody. His libertarian base (which isn’t big enough to win the delegate-rich primaries) thinks he’s trimming his principles, and traditional party hawks distrust his trimmings.
In fact, the hawks are already attacking Paul in an ad that’s slated to air in the early GOP primary states. The ad’s sponsor, the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America (one of those outside groups that isn’t required to disclose donors) features an old Paul quote about Iran: “You know, it’s ridiculous to think they are a threat to our national security.”
It strains credulity to believe that a guy who looks wobbly on interventionism can win the GOP nod. Blowing with the wind is a loser. Republicans learned that with Mitt Romney.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org