Commentary Magazine


Topic: Rand Paul

The Anti-Rand Paul GOP Primary

The 2014 midterms are months away but the 2016 Republican presidential race is already heating up–though on foreign policy, an issue that isn’t usually a significant factor. But while this debate is generating a fair amount of heat, the real competition isn’t really so much between Senator Rand Paul, the leader of the libertarian wing of the GOP, as it is between those seeking to assume the leadership of those who are determined to stop the Kentucky senator.

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The 2014 midterms are months away but the 2016 Republican presidential race is already heating up–though on foreign policy, an issue that isn’t usually a significant factor. But while this debate is generating a fair amount of heat, the real competition isn’t really so much between Senator Rand Paul, the leader of the libertarian wing of the GOP, as it is between those seeking to assume the leadership of those who are determined to stop the Kentucky senator.

That’s the upshot of a pair of dueling op-ed articles published this week in which Texas Governor Rick Perry and Paul laid out their respective positions on foreign policy. Perry pulled no punches in an article published in the Washington Post last Friday as he labeled Paul an “isolationist.” Perry rightly pointed out that the positions Paul advocates would weaken America’s defense and standing around the world even more than President Obama’s disastrous policies, especially as a terrorist threat becomes more pronounced in the Middle East.

Paul argued in a response published yesterday in Politico that he was a realist, not an isolationist. But he gave away the game by claiming the difference between them was about his unwillingness to order Americans into Iraq, a signal that he intends to stick to a stance in which the use of U.S. power, as well as its exercise of influence, would be shelved in a Paul presidency.

Paul’s advantage here is that he is the unchallenged spokesman for the growing isolationist spirit within the GOP and the nation. He has inherited his father’s extreme libertarian base and expanded with a slick appeal rooted in the post-Iraq and Afghanistan war weariness. That gives him a sizable chunk of Republican primary voters and accounts for the fact that early polls show him with a slim plurality in a large field of potential candidates.

But it doesn’t guarantee Paul the nomination. To the contrary, though Paul is a formidable contender, there’s no reason to believe that the party that has championed strong defense and foreign policies for generations is morphing into the sort of organization where an extremist like Ron Paul, or even his son, who espouse foreign-policy views that are arguably to the left of Obama, speaks for the majority.

But Paul could succeed if the candidates who espouse mainstream GOP views on foreign policy siphon support from each other and allow him to slip through to victory. That’s why the fiercest fight in the upcoming campaign will not be between Paul and those who disagree with him but in the virtual primary as Republican foreign-policy hawks seek to claim the mantle as the anti-Paul candidate.

This will be especially important because although most voters will always be more concerned about the economy and domestic issues, the differences between the candidates on most of the other issues will be minimal. As things stack up now, other than immigration reform, foreign policy may be the only point on which there are significant differences among the Republicans.

Who will be competing in the anti-Paul primary?

The first name that comes to mind is Chris Christie. The New Jersey governor’s decision to remind voters of his opposition to gay marriage made it clear that he’s still interested in running for president despite his ongoing Bridgegate troubles. And he fired a shot across Paul’s bow last year on the question of intelligence gathering that indicated a willingness to stake out ground to the libertarian’s right on defense policy. But Christie is still regarded by many in the grass roots as a moderate who will have problems drawing support from a party that has shifted to the right. More to the point, his expertise on foreign affairs appears to be minimal. While no one should underestimate Christie in a fight, this is not a man who is likely to gain any advantages by speaking about non-domestic or economic issues.

The other principal contender for the title of anti-Paul is Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Rubio has spent the last year giving speeches on foreign affairs and has the chops to make a strong case for himself as the most able spokesman of his generation for a strong American foreign policy. Based on his statements, Rubio is a clear choice to be the leading advocate for a strong America in his generation. But the jury is still out on whether Rubio can overcome a poor 2013 in which conservatives attacked him on immigration and Paul and Ted Cruz won the affection of the Tea Party (a group that once regarded him as a favorite).

There are others who would like use foreign policy to emerge from the pack of GOP candidates. Outliers like former ambassador John Bolton and Rep. Peter King want to run on foreign policy but neither seems capable anything more than a symbolic candidacy. 2012 runner-up Rick Santorum has the expertise learned during years in the Senate and would give Paul a run for his money by articulating the case for stopping Iran and not allowing Islamists or the Russians to run the U.S. out of the Middle East. But while it would be foolish to underestimate Santorum (as I and just about everyone else did in 2012), he still looks right now to be a second-tier candidate until the contrary is proven.

There is also the possibility that someone else, such as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, will emerge as a rival to Paul. But Walker must first win reelection and then must articulate some strong positions on foreign policy, something that so far he has not done.

It is into that confusing array of contenders that Perry is seeking to inject himself. Perry’s disastrous 2012 run would have seemed to eliminate him from future consideration but after his very good week showing up Barack Obama on illegal immigration, the Texas governor seems to be a much more serious contender now than he did only a few weeks ago.

Perry doesn’t know as much about foreign policy as Rubio, Santorum, Bolton, or King and anyone who remembers his debate performances the last time around must regard his 2016 hopes as a long shot at best. But in contrast to his late start last time around, Perry is going in hard this time and seems better prepared. Moreover, by seeking to establish himself as the heir to the Reagan wing of the GOP (as opposed to Paul’s seeming effort to channel the spirit of Robert A. Taft, the isolationist champion of the 1940s), Perry has correctly targeted an issue that could give him a leg up in a battle that is only just starting.

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Rand Paul, the GOP’s Anti-Reagan

In an illuminating essay for National Journal, Michael Gerson writes about the foreign-policy debate roiling the GOP. Going back to Dwight Eisenhower’s victory over Robert Taft in 1952, Gerson points out that since that moment the GOP has been an internationalist party.

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In an illuminating essay for National Journal, Michael Gerson writes about the foreign-policy debate roiling the GOP. Going back to Dwight Eisenhower’s victory over Robert Taft in 1952, Gerson points out that since that moment the GOP has been an internationalist party.

There have been differences for sure–most notably Ronald Reagan’s challenge of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger’s policy of détente, with Reagan embracing the roll-back of the Soviet empire–but they have all been differences among internationalists. Mr. Gerson argues that the rise of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul represents an effort by non-interventionists to remake the core national-security doctrine of the GOP. Gerson quotes George Mason Professor Colin Deuck, who says of Paul’s approach: “This is not just a rejection of Bush 43. It goes way beyond Reagan versus Nixon. It is an attempt to undo the Eisenhower administration, which locked Republicans into an internationalist stance.”

Mr. Gerson highlights Senator Paul’s positions on various national-security issues:

The talented, ambitious Republican senator, with little background in foreign affairs, has proposed defense cuts, opposed the “perpetual war” against terrorism, questioned American troop deployments in Germany and South Korea, and sought to limit presidential authority over the use of force (urging, for example, the congressional deauthorization of the Iraq and Afghan wars)… Paul has systematically opposed the forward deployment of American influence: drone strikes, military engagement, and foreign assistance (which, he argues, encourages “lethargy” and “insolence”). Paul’s “constitutional foreign policy” denies the legal basis of the war on terrorism, would place severe constraints on the executive, and hints at the existence of an oppressive national security state.

The political and policy atmosphere of 2013—conflict fatigue, the Arab’s Spring’s frightening turn, public concerns about drone policy, revelations about NSA spying—could hardly have been more favorable to Rand Paul’s rise. It is particularly revealing what a leader says when he is on top of the world. During his 12-hour, 52-minute drone filibuster, Paul felt enough support and permission to make extraordinary claims about the potential misuse of presidential power. “That Americans could be killed in a café in San Francisco,” he said, “or in a restaurant in Houston or at their home in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is an abomination.”

This was the perfect melding of domestic and foreign policy libertarianism—an assertion that the national security state might not only violate your privacy but also take your life during lunch. It was also a paranoid delusion. Taken as a serious argument, it would mean that the president of the United States can’t be trusted with advanced weaponry.

Senator Paul understands that his libertarian convictions are still out of step with many in the GOP, which is why he’s careful in how much he reveals, careful in the battles he chooses, and why he insists his views are Reaganesque (his latest effort can be found in his op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal).

Having worked in the Reagan administration and having read a great deal about Reagan and his presidency, it is risible for Paul to claim his philosophy mirrors Reagan’s. America’s fortieth president, among other things, was not drawn to bizarre conspiracies, which Paul can be. (For example, Paul accused Vice President Cheney of being in favor of the Iraq war because of his ties to Halliburton and warns that the NSA might soon “start using the GPS feature in your phone to track whether or not you go to gun shows.”) Rand Paul’s philosophy is much closer to his father Ron Paul’s than Reagan’s or, for that matter, Eisenhower’s.

Senator Paul, then, does not represent simply a different point on the GOP’s post-World War II foreign-policy continuum. He is a break from that tradition. Whether that is wise or not is open to debate. But Mr. Paul should at least have the courage of his libertarian convictions. Particularly if he decides to run for president in 2016, Paul should level with us about how radically different his foreign policy as president would be from those of the last six Republican presidents.

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Paul’s Isolationism Isn’t a Viable Alternative

In the last week the collapse in Iraq has re-ignited the debate over President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 as well as President Obama’s to abandon it in 2011. That has allowed many liberals to return to their favorite pastime of bashing neoconservative advocates for the war and conservatives to excoriate an administration that decided to bug out of Iraq just at the point when the conflict seemed to have been won. Both of the last two presidents made mistakes in Iraq and these exchanges have left no one’s reputation intact. But for isolationists, this latest crisis is an opportunity for them to claim that they alone have avoided blame for both the bloody war that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein and the current battles in which much of the country appears to be falling into the hands of a Sunni coalition made up of al-Qaeda sympathizers and former Baathists.

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In the last week the collapse in Iraq has re-ignited the debate over President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003 as well as President Obama’s to abandon it in 2011. That has allowed many liberals to return to their favorite pastime of bashing neoconservative advocates for the war and conservatives to excoriate an administration that decided to bug out of Iraq just at the point when the conflict seemed to have been won. Both of the last two presidents made mistakes in Iraq and these exchanges have left no one’s reputation intact. But for isolationists, this latest crisis is an opportunity for them to claim that they alone have avoided blame for both the bloody war that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein and the current battles in which much of the country appears to be falling into the hands of a Sunni coalition made up of al-Qaeda sympathizers and former Baathists.

That’s the conceit of Senator Rand Paul’s op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal in which he joins the pile-on against both Bush and Obama. According to Paul, the main lesson to be derived from recent developments in Iraq is that anyone connected to or supportive of the original invasion as well as those who support the president’s disastrous retreat from the region need to admit their errors and cease advocating for what he considers to be failed policies. Fair enough. But once everyone who was for the war and also those who urged withdrawal say they’re sorry, what does the man who must be considered one of the frontrunners for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 think the U.S. should do in Iraq now? The answer is apparently, not much. Paul seems to be skeptical about any action to try and push back against the ISIS advance, a position that may be wrong but is not irrational. Not unreasonably, he also believes any presidential decisions should seek authorization from Congress for any new initiative.

What is not reasonable is the context of Paul’s position. Though he continues to insist that what he is proposing is analogous to the policies carried out by Ronald Reagan, having opposed virtually every U.S. initiative in the Middle East, it is hard to see his proposal as anything but a prescription for U.S. abandonment of both its interests and allies in the Middle East. This may have some superficial appeal to war-weary Americans who have grown tired of dealing with the region’s problems. But doing so will neither enhance the nation’s security nor allow it to ignore the threats that regularly emerge to challenge it.

Paul’s harping on the idea of others admitting their mistakes is a not-so-subtle way of asserting that he has made none. It is true that he bears no responsibility for getting the U.S. into Iraq or for President Obama’s bungling of a war that the administration claimed had been successfully concluded in his first term. But to claim that simply staying out of Iraq would have avoided all the problems of a rising Islamist tide in the region is to miss the point of the events of the last few years. By passing on an early intervention in Syria that might have toppled the Assad regime and avoided having the country fall into the hands of Islamists, President Obama set in motion a chain of events that has not only left the country in ruins, created more than a million refugees, and left more than 100,000 dead. He also helped create the circumstances that have fueled the chaos in Iraq. In doing so, Obama was doing just as a President Paul would do, only with the pretense that he was actually in control of events as his “lead from behind” mantra tried to indicate.

It is one thing to advocate for the U.S. to adopt a Reaganesque stance of only using force when U.S. interests are directly threatened, as Paul counsels. But Paul’s consistent position is always for the U.S. to stay out of the fight against Islamist terrorists, no matter where they are or what they are doing. He opposes drone strikes on al-Qaeda leaders and even U.S. aid to regional allies like Israel as well as less friendly and stable countries. Though he couches his position in “realist” terms that evoke Republicans of the past, a Rand Paul foreign policy would signal a retreat from the defense of the U.S. interests that Ronald Reagan would never have countenanced. Far from being an alternative to the follies of both the last two presidents, Paul would take U.S. foreign policy far to the left of what most Republicans already rightly think is Obama’s retreat from the world stage.

There is clearly no appetite in the country now for a new commitment to ground combat in Iraq, but Paul’s isolationism represents a dangerous extension of Obama’s cut-and-run philosophy. Though foreign policy will always take a back seat to domestic concerns, as Republicans begin to think seriously about 2016 they need to start thinking about whether they really want a presidential candidate who wants to abandon America’s interests and allies even more than Obama has done.

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Should Rand Paul Embrace or Downplay the Libertarian Label?

About a year ago, Rand Paul made what may qualify as the prospective presidential candidate’s most defensive comment on his political ideology. “I’m not advocating everyone go out and run around with no clothes on and smoke pot,” Paul said according the Washington Post. “I’m not a libertarian. I’m a libertarian Republican. I’m a constitutional conservative.”

The comment was made in the context of Paul’s efforts to court evangelicals, but revealed a challenge posed by the “libertarian” label. Much of what is said about libertarians in the media is absurdly unfair. Like any political movement, there is a diverse range of opinion about what constitutes libertarianism and how libertarians might approach policy. (I don’t remember recently reading an editorial in Reason magazine, for example, advocating everyone “run around with no clothes on and smoke pot.”)

There is a fascinating debate among libertarians, for example, about abortion and whether the government should enforce the granting of individual rights to a person from the beginning of his life, or whether a person is granted those rights sometime after life begins. Instead of being asked about that, Paul gets told (according to the Post account) by voters that they like much of what he has to say but they hesitate to vote for him because they “don’t like legalizing heroin.”

But he consciously avoids ditching the label altogether. Just a few weeks ago, he offered a slightly different formulation: he’s “libertarian-ish.” His libertarian leanings, if that’s the right word, are not only genuine but also have their own political advantages. The same day CNN ran Paul’s “libertarian-ish” comment, the New York Times ran a prominent story headlined “Rand Paul and Wealthy Libertarians Connect as He Weighs Running.” It opened with a well-chosen anecdote:

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About a year ago, Rand Paul made what may qualify as the prospective presidential candidate’s most defensive comment on his political ideology. “I’m not advocating everyone go out and run around with no clothes on and smoke pot,” Paul said according the Washington Post. “I’m not a libertarian. I’m a libertarian Republican. I’m a constitutional conservative.”

The comment was made in the context of Paul’s efforts to court evangelicals, but revealed a challenge posed by the “libertarian” label. Much of what is said about libertarians in the media is absurdly unfair. Like any political movement, there is a diverse range of opinion about what constitutes libertarianism and how libertarians might approach policy. (I don’t remember recently reading an editorial in Reason magazine, for example, advocating everyone “run around with no clothes on and smoke pot.”)

There is a fascinating debate among libertarians, for example, about abortion and whether the government should enforce the granting of individual rights to a person from the beginning of his life, or whether a person is granted those rights sometime after life begins. Instead of being asked about that, Paul gets told (according to the Post account) by voters that they like much of what he has to say but they hesitate to vote for him because they “don’t like legalizing heroin.”

But he consciously avoids ditching the label altogether. Just a few weeks ago, he offered a slightly different formulation: he’s “libertarian-ish.” His libertarian leanings, if that’s the right word, are not only genuine but also have their own political advantages. The same day CNN ran Paul’s “libertarian-ish” comment, the New York Times ran a prominent story headlined “Rand Paul and Wealthy Libertarians Connect as He Weighs Running.” It opened with a well-chosen anecdote:

Frayda Levin, a New Jersey libertarian activist and former small-business owner, is a woman of many passions: promoting liberty, ending marijuana prohibition and opposing her state’s recent minimum-wage increase. But Ms. Levin has added another cause as well. At gala benefits for free-market research institutes and at fund-raisers for antitax groups, she has urged like-minded donors to help send Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, to the White House.

“I consider that one of my main goals,” said Ms. Levin, who has met with Mr. Paul several times and in February introduced him at a private conference in Florida hosted by the Club for Growth, a conservative advocacy group. “I tell people he’s the Republican of the future. He’s got both the intellectual heft and the emotional understanding.”

A libertarian’s declaration that Paul is the “Republican of the future” is not just good for Paul, but arguably has benefits for the GOP as well. After all, popular libertarian candidates who want to run for president tend to leave the GOP and run on their own ticket. This is, electorally speaking, frustrating for Republicans and counterproductive for libertarians. As staunch libertarian Randy Barnett wrote in 2012, “The Libertarian Party’s effort will, if effective, attract more libertarian voters away from the candidate who is marginally less hostile to liberty, and help hand the election to the candidate who is more hostile to liberty.”

But a libertarian(ish) Republican, if effective, does the opposite: he can galvanize support for libertarian policy objectives without splintering the conservative coalition that remains the only hope of standing athwart the statist project yelling stop. But there’s a catch, and here’s where libertarians get justifiably put off by the right: the Republican Party wants someone like Paul to be just popular enough. It’s up to libertarians to convince the party that he should be the GOP’s standard bearer, and it’s not an easy sell.

Which raises the question: is it easier to make that sell if Paul embraces his libertarianism or downplays it? That will be one question the 2016 nomination race seeks to answer. It’s easy to see both sides of it. It’s possible that the GOP just isn’t ready to go full libertarian at the presidential level, and therefore downplaying his libertarian label in favor of a more conservative-Republican tag might settle some nerves. Yet it’s also possible that by avoiding the term “libertarian” Paul is implicitly reinforcing the idea that libertarianism is an idea whose time has yet to arrive, thus justifying the suspicions of the establishment.

But it’s also important to note that whatever Paul chooses to call himself, he has been branded a libertarian and that is how he will be viewed relative to the other candidates. That is, Paul has essentially emerged as the candidate for libertarians, whether or not he calls himself the libertarian candidate.

It is for that reason that the much-feared “establishment” is only a real threat to Paul in the primary if there is no consensus establishment candidate. The conservative grassroots will not, at least in significant numbers, choose Jeb Bush or Chris Christie over Rand Paul. Many non-libertarian conservatives would prefer Paul over a genuinely moderate candidate. So rather than an anyone-but-Paul movement coalescing against him, he would probably benefit from the reverse.

But what if Bush doesn’t run? Well then Paul has a problem, because the “establishment” will support someone, and there are many palatable candidates on offer. The governors, especially Scott Walker and Mike Pence, would probably easily compete with Paul for non-libertarian voters and get establishment backing. Marco Rubio is another candidate who would appeal to establishment figures but also many conservatives–though his support for comprehensive immigration reform presumably makes him less of a threat to Paul’s base of support.

In such a case, Paul’s best hope is to compete for the “constitutional conservative” label, not differentiate himself from it. He has less to lose if he’s up against a 2016 version of Mitt Romney. So is Paul a libertarian? The best guess right now is: It depends.

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The Tea Party Comes Into Its Own

The main takeaway from recent GOP primaries, which saw the victories of Nebraska’s Ben Sasse and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, was a continuation of a lesson conservatives have been learning the past few election cycles: the candidate matters. In the past, conservatives have often learned this by losing–see Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, etc. Now they seem to be proving it by winning.

Slate’s John Dickerson is always worth reading, and he has another typically thoughtful piece today, asking “Why Is the GOP’s Civil War So Civil?” He notes, correctly, that the returns in North Carolina and Nebraska mean “the grassroots conservatives of the Tea Party and elites of the GOP establishment can both claim victories.” But I think it’s actually part of a larger trend that includes not just recent nominees but also the successful politicians the Tea Party has already elevated. Dickerson writes:

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The main takeaway from recent GOP primaries, which saw the victories of Nebraska’s Ben Sasse and North Carolina’s Thom Tillis, was a continuation of a lesson conservatives have been learning the past few election cycles: the candidate matters. In the past, conservatives have often learned this by losing–see Todd Akin, Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, etc. Now they seem to be proving it by winning.

Slate’s John Dickerson is always worth reading, and he has another typically thoughtful piece today, asking “Why Is the GOP’s Civil War So Civil?” He notes, correctly, that the returns in North Carolina and Nebraska mean “the grassroots conservatives of the Tea Party and elites of the GOP establishment can both claim victories.” But I think it’s actually part of a larger trend that includes not just recent nominees but also the successful politicians the Tea Party has already elevated. Dickerson writes:

Nebraska is a safe Republican state. Perhaps the forces of the establishment would have jumped in more heavily if the march to the majority in the Senate were threatened. But that’s not a certainty. Sasse is no Christine O’Donnell or Richard Mourdock, two of the candidates often cited as being substandard. Sasse has political skill, an Ivy League education, and credentials as a Bush administration veteran. He will win the general election in the heavily red state and come to Washington as a Rand Paul or Ron Johnson type of senator—what used to be known as simply a good movement conservative.

The reference to Paul and Johnson (and an earlier one to Marco Rubio) provides a good opportunity to check in with the senators who were part of earlier successful Tea Party grassroots efforts. Johnson is far from a firebrand, and he has settled into the Senate nicely without expressing any interest (at least yet) in using it as a platform for a near-term presidential run. But even the ones considering a run for the presidency have–perhaps for that reason–paid a lot of attention to their tone lately as well.

Rubio’s an obvious one, having pushed for comprehensive immigration reform: “It’s really hard to get people to listen to you on economic growth, on tax rates, on healthcare if they think you want to deport their grandmother,” Rubio said after the 2012 election.

More recently, Paul–nobody’s idea of a RINO–did some tapdancing after trying to thread the needle on voter ID. “Everybody’s gone completely crazy on this voter ID thing,” Paul told the New York Times last week. “I think it’s wrong for Republicans to go too crazy on this issue because it’s offending people.” After a bit of an uproar on the right, Paul explained himself to Sean Hannity (via Hot Air’s Allahpundit):

Like I say, I think both sides have made mistakes in…this issue. But it’s mainly in presentation and perception, not in reality. In the sense that, if Republicans are going to go around the country and this becomes a central theme and issue, you have to realize, rightly or wrongly, it is being perceived by some — and this is the point I was making and I think it’s still a valid point, that I’m trying to go out and say to African Americans ‘I want your vote and the Republican Party wants your vote’. If they perceive, rightly or wrongly, that showing their ID is an attempt to get them not to vote because they perceive it in the lineage of a time when it truly did happen through poll taxes and questioning to try and prevent people, if they perceive it that way, we have to be aware that the perception is out there and be careful about not so overdoing something that we further alienate a block of people we need to attract.

After posting that quote, Allahpundit remarked: “That’s basically the same rationale amnesty fans have used to justify comprehensive immigration reform.”

Perhaps, and it’s interesting to see Paul join Rubio in the group of Tea Party rising stars worrying aloud about perception as much as policy. But I think it’s more analogous to the disastrous town hall meetings congressional Republicans called to rally the base against the comprehensive immigration reform favored by then-President Bush (and John McCain). There are legitimate concerns about seeming to incentivize illegal immigration, but those town halls were an angry and, in some cases, offensive escalation of the party’s rhetoric toward immigrants.

In addition to Paul and Rubio, there’s Mike Lee’s thoughtful call for a renewed effort to fight poverty, and–though he’s in a slightly different category than the Tea Party senators–Scott Walker’s explanation of his governing philosophy in an interview with the Washington Examiner: “It’s a phrase I use often: Austerity is not the answer, reform is.”

The civility of the GOP’s “civil war” is part of a broader trend of the party’s conservatives adjusting to the fact they’re often addressing a national audience. That’s especially true for those planning a run for the presidency. Contrary to the left’s hopefully declarations that it has run its course, a Tea Party that vets its candidates and embraces governing is a political force that’s just warming up.

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The GOP and the Question of “Experience”

In a clever combination of concern-trolling and hypocrite-hunting, Politico has a story asking if youth and inexperience will be stumbling blocks on the path to the 2016 nominating contest for the GOP’s rising stars. Specifically, the story is concerned about Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. In trying to make the argument extend beyond “hey, these Republicans are inexperienced and so was Obama,” a bit of goalpost shifting is required:

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio are each in first Senate terms. None has executive experience. Two are in their early 40s, and one is barely in his 50s. Like Obama before 2008, they have spent too little time in Washington to build a robust legislative portfolio. And yet, like Obama, each is viewed as a fresh-faced star in his party at a time when many voters are looking for something new.

If “robust legislative portfolio” is the standard, then sure. But both Paul and Rubio are more impressive senators than Obama was–especially Rubio, who passed comprehensive immigration reform despite his party being in the minority while Obama, as a senator, famously torpedoed immigration reform. And that might be because of those three GOP senators, only Cruz would be as inexperienced on Election Day as Obama was in 2008. Additionally, it’s pretty silly to compare Rubio, who has been at the forefront of manifold policy reform efforts of late, with Obama, who worked as hard on equivocation as Rubio, Paul, and Cruz do at taking a stand on principle.

It also has much to do with contrast. The GOP ran two nominees against Obama, John McCain and Mitt Romney. The former had experience in war and in the Congress, the latter in the private sector. Obama had neither, so it’s not surprising that the GOP highlighted that difference in the general election. But the conservative grassroots don’t feel the same way, and they were unhappy with both of those GOP nominees. And that’s why this is less of an issue in the primary. As Politico writes:

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In a clever combination of concern-trolling and hypocrite-hunting, Politico has a story asking if youth and inexperience will be stumbling blocks on the path to the 2016 nominating contest for the GOP’s rising stars. Specifically, the story is concerned about Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. In trying to make the argument extend beyond “hey, these Republicans are inexperienced and so was Obama,” a bit of goalpost shifting is required:

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio are each in first Senate terms. None has executive experience. Two are in their early 40s, and one is barely in his 50s. Like Obama before 2008, they have spent too little time in Washington to build a robust legislative portfolio. And yet, like Obama, each is viewed as a fresh-faced star in his party at a time when many voters are looking for something new.

If “robust legislative portfolio” is the standard, then sure. But both Paul and Rubio are more impressive senators than Obama was–especially Rubio, who passed comprehensive immigration reform despite his party being in the minority while Obama, as a senator, famously torpedoed immigration reform. And that might be because of those three GOP senators, only Cruz would be as inexperienced on Election Day as Obama was in 2008. Additionally, it’s pretty silly to compare Rubio, who has been at the forefront of manifold policy reform efforts of late, with Obama, who worked as hard on equivocation as Rubio, Paul, and Cruz do at taking a stand on principle.

It also has much to do with contrast. The GOP ran two nominees against Obama, John McCain and Mitt Romney. The former had experience in war and in the Congress, the latter in the private sector. Obama had neither, so it’s not surprising that the GOP highlighted that difference in the general election. But the conservative grassroots don’t feel the same way, and they were unhappy with both of those GOP nominees. And that’s why this is less of an issue in the primary. As Politico writes:

While Obama’s meteoric ascent to the White House may give each of the Republican senators hope, a relatively thin résumé can be a major liability, especially when the field could include current and former governors, such as Jeb Bush of Florida or Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who can claim executive experience.

In addition, the GOP has a long track record of nominating presidential candidates with established national profiles who are seen as next in line — whether it was Mitt Romney, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush or Ronald Reagan.

You can see the problem here. The GOP is moving away from next-in-linism anyway, but even if it weren’t, who would be the next in line? Arguably Paul Ryan, a 44-year-old member of the House. As for the field of governors, this is where Politico makes a good point–though the grassroots seem pretty energetically opposed to Jeb Bush, so his inclusion on that list makes less sense.

Indeed, the point is stronger if you exclude Jeb. Including Bush would make it easier for conservative voters to stay away from the “establishment” candidate. Taking Bush out of the lineup blurs the distinction a bit. If anything, the conservative grassroots have been too instinctively suspicious of (congressional) experience. Witness, for example, the quote Paul’s advisor gave Politico: “We have had great presidents who were governors, and terrible presidents who have been governors. Often the problem with senators who run for office is not that they haven’t been here long enough, it’s the exact opposite: Too often, they have been in Washington too long.”

The sense of entitlement is something the Tea Party has fought to root out of the party, and rightly so. The tendency to primary sitting congressmen has been a key expression of this, and a Jeb Bush candidacy would be its perfect target in 2016. But if Bush doesn’t run, the Politico argument is stronger. Neither Scott Walker nor Mike Pence is an establishment figure, certainly not the way Chris Christie was shaping up to be.

Although Pence has among the best resumes of the prospective candidates, I’m not sure his time as governor will have nearly the impact on the conservative electorate that Walker’s would, since Walker’s successful battle against the public unions became a national story and thus a cause célèbre, resulting even in a recall campaign against him–which he won as well.

The “experience” argument on its own almost certainly isn’t a game changer. But if the contest doesn’t include Jeb or Christie, a candidate with executive experience could also be a candidate with appeal to the base, making experience more valuable as a possible tie breaker. But throw in a genuinely moderate establishment candidate, and it could make the experience argument less, not more attractive to the base.

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Is Rubio the Establishment’s Best Bet?

Yesterday Senator Marco Rubio made it clear on ABC’s This Week that he is seriously considering running for president in 2016. That Rubio’s been thinking about the presidency isn’t a secret. After a brutal 2013 in which his presidential prospects took a precipitous decline, the chaotic nature of the GOP race and the increasing importance of foreign policy has brought him back into the limelight. But if his chances are no better—and no worse—than just about any of the other prospective 2016 candidates, what’s really fascinating about the confident manner with which he’s promoting his candidacy is that his path to the nomination runs primarily through a Republican establishment that he once challenged.

Though he started out as a Tea Party challenger to the establishment’s choice for a Florida Senate seat, Rubio’s mainstream views on foreign policy, embrace of immigration reform, as well as his tough opposition to the Obama administration on host of other domestic issues have transformed him from an outsider to one of the people who may be hoping to fill the insider slot in the 2016 primaries. With Chris Christie heavily damaged by Bridgegate, Jeb Bush still big a question mark, and other possibilities such as Governors Scott Walker and Mike Pence not certain to run, if you’re going to handicap the race this far out, Rubio has to be considered as having a reasonable chance of being the Republican who will emerge from the early primaries as the establishment’s best hope of stopping Rand Paul. Seen in that light, Rubio’s announcement of readiness is a smart move that could set in motion a train of events that will see him inheriting the mantle of the party’s hopes for 2016.

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Yesterday Senator Marco Rubio made it clear on ABC’s This Week that he is seriously considering running for president in 2016. That Rubio’s been thinking about the presidency isn’t a secret. After a brutal 2013 in which his presidential prospects took a precipitous decline, the chaotic nature of the GOP race and the increasing importance of foreign policy has brought him back into the limelight. But if his chances are no better—and no worse—than just about any of the other prospective 2016 candidates, what’s really fascinating about the confident manner with which he’s promoting his candidacy is that his path to the nomination runs primarily through a Republican establishment that he once challenged.

Though he started out as a Tea Party challenger to the establishment’s choice for a Florida Senate seat, Rubio’s mainstream views on foreign policy, embrace of immigration reform, as well as his tough opposition to the Obama administration on host of other domestic issues have transformed him from an outsider to one of the people who may be hoping to fill the insider slot in the 2016 primaries. With Chris Christie heavily damaged by Bridgegate, Jeb Bush still big a question mark, and other possibilities such as Governors Scott Walker and Mike Pence not certain to run, if you’re going to handicap the race this far out, Rubio has to be considered as having a reasonable chance of being the Republican who will emerge from the early primaries as the establishment’s best hope of stopping Rand Paul. Seen in that light, Rubio’s announcement of readiness is a smart move that could set in motion a train of events that will see him inheriting the mantle of the party’s hopes for 2016.

In the last 18 months, Rubio has demonstrated just how perilous it can be to be anointed as a future president. In the aftermath of the 2012 presidential election Rubio was dubbed “The Republican Savior” by TIME magazine because of his youth, his Hispanic identity, and the fact that he represented a fresh face in a party that was desperately in need of a makeover. With impeccable conservative credentials on the issues and close ties to the Tea Party movement that he had championed in Florida against the quintessential GOP moderate Charlie Crist, Rubio seemed to be a computer model of what Republicans needed.

But after beginning 2013 as a punch line after his comic dive for a water bottle during his official response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address, his stock quickly went downhill. The rise of Paul and Cruz illustrated that he had been eclipsed among Tea Partiers. The increasing willingness of many on the right to embrace Paul’s brand of isolationism also seemed to show that Rubio’s positions in favor of traditional GOP beliefs in a strong defense and engagement with the world against Islamist terror might no longer be popular on the right.

However, the biggest problem was Rubio’s decision to join a bipartisan coalition to solve the immigration mess. Rubio’s presence in the group forced it to accept a tough border enforcement element, but his acceptance of a path to citizenship provoked outrage on the right where anything other than support for deportation for illegals is viewed as heresy. Rubio’s immigration gambit was meant to demonstrate his leadership capabilities as well as his ability to compromise. And he was, and still is, absolutely right to assert that the real “amnesty” is what is going on now as 12 million illegals who are not going to be deported remain here but in a legal limbo. But it doomed any hope that Tea Partiers would back his candidacy and there are many on the right who will never back him because of it.

However, the failure of that bill has, perversely, helped Rubio come back in 2014. With immigration off the table for the near and perhaps even foreseeable future, the senator doesn’t have to keep arguing about an issue that many conservatives won’t budge on. With the crises in Ukraine and the collapse of the Middle East peace process as well as the ongoing debate about Iran’s nuclear program, suddenly Rubio’s tough foreign-policy stance makes him look a lot more marketable. There is a clear opening for a traditional Republican foreign-policy candidate to oppose Paul’s isolationism and marginal would-be contenders like Peter King and John Bolton won’t fill it.

The one big obstacle to Rubio’s hopes is Jeb Bush. If the son and brother of former presidents does run, he will likely snatch up all the establishment support Rubio needs, not to mention most of the senator’s own Florida backers. But if Bush doesn’t run, it’s easy to plot a scenario in which Rubio’s main competition for mainstream Republicans would be a severely compromised Christie and other less prominent Republicans who would be starting behind him in terms of fundraising. At that point, Rubio’s obvious strengths—youth, appeal to Hispanic voters, strong foreign-policy voice, fiscally conservative domestic policies, and willingness to play to the right on climate change—come back into play.

It remains to be seen whether much of the right will ever forgive him for a correct, if doomed, immigration proposal. But a year and a half before the primary fight really begins, you’d have to give him a fighting chance to be the man that establishment Republicans will look to if they want to stop a possible Rand Paul juggernaut in the spring of 2016.

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Aid Can’t Buy Israel’s Silence on Iran Deal

National Security Advisor Susan Rice was in Israel this week to brief Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on the latest developments in the nuclear talks with Iran. In doing so Rice, who was accompanied by top U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman, said all the right things about the U.S.-Israel relationship as well as the nuclear threat from Iran. Rice assured Netanyahu that the U.S. was committed to stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons and also touted the value of the American aid flowing to Israel. As the Times of Israel reported:

Rice said that the new deal “will take our total investment in Iron Dome, which has saved countless of Israeli lives, to nearly $900 million, a sign of our continued commitment to Israel’s security.”

“Every American dollar spent on Israel’s security is an investment in protecting the many interests that our nations share. Whether that’s preventing rockets from terrorizing the Israeli people, defending against the growing ballistic missile threat in the region, or advancing our commitment to defend freedom and democracy,” she went on.

Rice is right about that, since the money spent on bolstering its ally’s defense capabilities enhances U.S. security interests. But as welcome as those words may be, they aren’t enough to allay Israeli concerns about the nuclear talks with Iran that resume next week. As Haaretz reported, Netanyahu emerged from a session with Rice repeating his concerns that the U.S. is being dragged into a “bad deal” with Iran. While the Western press discounts virtually anything the Israeli leader said on this topic, the plain fact remains that the impetus from both the Obama administration and its European allies that virtually all informed observers think will result in the deal they have been seeking will be one in which Iran is allowed to keep its centrifuges and go on enriching uranium. So long as that is true, Iran will remain weeks or, at best, months away from a nuclear weapon. Under these circumstances, Americans need to realize that the damage the negotiations with Iran are doing to Israel’s security cannot be erased by even the most generous grants from Washington.

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National Security Advisor Susan Rice was in Israel this week to brief Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on the latest developments in the nuclear talks with Iran. In doing so Rice, who was accompanied by top U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman, said all the right things about the U.S.-Israel relationship as well as the nuclear threat from Iran. Rice assured Netanyahu that the U.S. was committed to stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons and also touted the value of the American aid flowing to Israel. As the Times of Israel reported:

Rice said that the new deal “will take our total investment in Iron Dome, which has saved countless of Israeli lives, to nearly $900 million, a sign of our continued commitment to Israel’s security.”

“Every American dollar spent on Israel’s security is an investment in protecting the many interests that our nations share. Whether that’s preventing rockets from terrorizing the Israeli people, defending against the growing ballistic missile threat in the region, or advancing our commitment to defend freedom and democracy,” she went on.

Rice is right about that, since the money spent on bolstering its ally’s defense capabilities enhances U.S. security interests. But as welcome as those words may be, they aren’t enough to allay Israeli concerns about the nuclear talks with Iran that resume next week. As Haaretz reported, Netanyahu emerged from a session with Rice repeating his concerns that the U.S. is being dragged into a “bad deal” with Iran. While the Western press discounts virtually anything the Israeli leader said on this topic, the plain fact remains that the impetus from both the Obama administration and its European allies that virtually all informed observers think will result in the deal they have been seeking will be one in which Iran is allowed to keep its centrifuges and go on enriching uranium. So long as that is true, Iran will remain weeks or, at best, months away from a nuclear weapon. Under these circumstances, Americans need to realize that the damage the negotiations with Iran are doing to Israel’s security cannot be erased by even the most generous grants from Washington.

The Rice visit encapsulated what has become a familiar Obama tactic to deal with the Israelis. The administration pressures Israel on the peace process with the Palestinians, sandbags them with selective and misleading leaks about those talks (as Martin Indyk did after the collapse of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative) and conducts negotiations with Iran that are clearly headed toward a deal that will leave Tehran’s nuclear infrastructure intact, a state of affairs that allows the Jewish state’s very existence to be subject to the ability of Washington to enforce an agreement with Iran that may be unenforceable. And after all that, the Israelis are supposed to cheer Obama and express gratitude because the administration has maintained the alliance and poured more money into vital projects like Iron Dome.

It should be understood that this weapons system is a key part of Israel’s defense strategy in dealing with the independent Palestinian state in all but name ruled by Hamas in Gaza. The strengthening of the security alliance with Israel merely maintains what other presidents began, but nevertheless Obama deserves credit for increasing the amounts spent on these projects.

When viewed in this context it is easy to understand why some Israelis are beginning to question the value of the massive aid that is given to them by the U.S. As Caroline Glick wrote in the Jerusalem Post last week when discussing the views of an isolationist like Senator Rand Paul who opposes all foreign aid including that given to Israel, while the help from the U.S. is important, it undercuts the country’s “strategic independence.”

Given the importance of weapons like Iron Dome that have only been made possible by American assistance, I’m not prepared to go as far as joining her in endorsing Paul’s anti-aid position. Israel still cannot afford to be cut off from U.S. military help if it is to maintain its qualitative edge over any combination of actual or potential foes. But neither should we accept Rice’s nice words about the U.S. “investment” as adequate compensation for the underhanded way in which Indyk has sandbagged Netanyahu, let alone the coming betrayal on Iran.

The administration seems to operate on the assumption that keeping the aid dollars flowing to Jerusalem covers a multitude of its sins even to the point of making up for an American push for détente with the vicious anti-Semitic and potentially genocidal regime in Tehran. But though he is wisely doing everything to not rise to Obama’s bait and to keep the daylight between Israel and the United States to a minimum, Netanyahu has to know that a tipping point may soon be coming in the balance between American aid and diplomatic treachery with Iran. It’s not clear what, if anything, Netanyahu will believe Israel is capable of doing in response to a “bad deal” with Iran up to and including a strike on the Islamist regime’s nuclear facilities before it is too late to stop their drive to a bomb. But whatever his decision might be, no one in Washington should labor under the illusion that Israeli acquiescence to an Iran deal can be bought with an anti-missile system even if some cash is thrown in on the side.

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Why Are We Talking About Lewinsky? Not Because of Conservatives.

Although Republicans often find themselves on the wrong end of media bias, they can take some comfort in the periodic reminders of just how much said media care for them, for their reputations, and for their electoral fortunes. That’s the only explanation for the near-constant free, unsolicited advice leaping from the pages of major newspapers, helpfully informing Republicans exactly what not to do.

This paternalistic instinct is reasserting itself as Monica Lewinsky returns to the spotlight. By now you’ve probably heard: Lewinsky penned a piece for the newest issue of Vanity Fair about her post-scandal recovery from the humiliation of being that intern. So, like it or not, Lewinsky is back in the news. What does this have to do with Republicans? Nothing yet–and the media would like it to stay that way. Here’s Chris Cillizza:

The one-time paramour of the sitting president of the United States is featured in Vanity Fair breaking her silence and telling her side of the story. Even though that story isn’t out yet, it’s already one of the most clicked-on pieces of content on the Internet.

The temptation for Republicans in all of this is obvious.  Hillary Clinton is the clear frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and an early favorite to keep the White House for her party.  Knocking Clinton back a bit has to be the focus of not just Republicans thinking about running for president in 2016 but of the entire GOP over these next months. Reopening one of the most lurid episodes in the history of the modern presidency would seem to be a no-brainer for the party.

“Seem” is the key word in that last sentence. Dig even slightly below the surface of the Lewinsky issue and you quickly see that Republicans would do well to stay as far away from it as possible.

Here’s the bizarre sentence in that piece of advice that should jump right off the screen at the reader: “Reopening one of the most lurid episodes in the history of the modern presidency would seem to be a no-brainer for the party.” We’re talking about Lewinsky not because Republicans want us to but because Lewinsky wants us to.

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Although Republicans often find themselves on the wrong end of media bias, they can take some comfort in the periodic reminders of just how much said media care for them, for their reputations, and for their electoral fortunes. That’s the only explanation for the near-constant free, unsolicited advice leaping from the pages of major newspapers, helpfully informing Republicans exactly what not to do.

This paternalistic instinct is reasserting itself as Monica Lewinsky returns to the spotlight. By now you’ve probably heard: Lewinsky penned a piece for the newest issue of Vanity Fair about her post-scandal recovery from the humiliation of being that intern. So, like it or not, Lewinsky is back in the news. What does this have to do with Republicans? Nothing yet–and the media would like it to stay that way. Here’s Chris Cillizza:

The one-time paramour of the sitting president of the United States is featured in Vanity Fair breaking her silence and telling her side of the story. Even though that story isn’t out yet, it’s already one of the most clicked-on pieces of content on the Internet.

The temptation for Republicans in all of this is obvious.  Hillary Clinton is the clear frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 and an early favorite to keep the White House for her party.  Knocking Clinton back a bit has to be the focus of not just Republicans thinking about running for president in 2016 but of the entire GOP over these next months. Reopening one of the most lurid episodes in the history of the modern presidency would seem to be a no-brainer for the party.

“Seem” is the key word in that last sentence. Dig even slightly below the surface of the Lewinsky issue and you quickly see that Republicans would do well to stay as far away from it as possible.

Here’s the bizarre sentence in that piece of advice that should jump right off the screen at the reader: “Reopening one of the most lurid episodes in the history of the modern presidency would seem to be a no-brainer for the party.” We’re talking about Lewinsky not because Republicans want us to but because Lewinsky wants us to.

The only Republican who has really made this an issue was Rand Paul, when the senator brought up the scandal more than three months ago. But there’s an obvious reason Paul mentioned it:

Paul, a potential 2016 GOP presidential nominee, also said that the Democrats’ argument that Republicans are waging a “War on Women” by opposing coverage for birth control in Obamacare and by opposing abortion is undercut by the memory of Bill Clinton as a sexual predator.

“One of the workplace laws and rules that I think are good is that bosses should not prey on young interns in their office. And I think really the media seems to have given President Clinton a pass on this. He took advantage of a girl that was 20 years old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that, and that is predatory behavior….. Then they (Democrats) have the gall to stand up and say, ‘Republicans are having a war on women.’ ”

Indeed, Paul had the temerity to remind the public that the Democrats’ phony “war on women” narrative was completely and totally disingenuous. The party that worships Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy, and others like them is not a party that cares a whit for the wellbeing of young women. It’s true that Paul probably didn’t need to keep bringing it up, but he also understood that he struck a nerve.

The war on women was relevant more to Bill than to Hillary. Bill Clinton gave the major speech at the Democratic National Convention renominating Obama on the same night that Sandra Fluke gave a stock “war on women” convention speech. The irony may have been lost on Democrats, but the contrast was pretty glaring. Either way, Paul’s purpose was not really to attack Hillary or even Lewinsky, but Bill Clinton and the entire dishonest Democratic establishment, which is what really bothered people.

There’s one other aspect of this worth mentioning. Not only did Vanity Fair publish Lewinsky’s dramatic return, but it’s liberal writers who want to talk about it–and tie it directly to Hillary. Here’s the New Republic declaring that “Monica Lewinsky Is the Perfect Person to Kick Off the Conversation About Hillary Clinton’s Presidency.” And here’s Slate’s Amanda Hess reminding readers how obsessively Maureen Dowd trashed Lewinsky at the time, and that Dowd seems positively elated to take more cheap shots at Lewinsky this time around, no doubt feeling the exhilaration of relevance for the first time since, well, probably since the last time she was trashing Lewinsky.

Those attacking Lewinsky are liberals; those desperate to use Lewinsky to talk about Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign are liberals; those actually defending Lewinsky from a predatory cad–those are conservatives. And that’s when liberals step in to tell them to pipe down.

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Cut off Aid to the Palestinian Authority? Just Enforce the Law.

Last week, Senator Rand Paul set off a furious debate by putting forward a bill that would cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority because of the decision by its leaders to conclude a unity pact with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas. But rather than reap the applause of Israel’s backers, his bill was opposed by AIPAC. Paul’s latest attempt to curry favor with Jews and other members of the pro-Israel community was excoriated by the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin and wound up failing in the Senate.

I thought Paul was wrong to blast AIPAC as betraying its mandate. I also think his isolationism and steadfast opposition to vital military aid to Israel calls into question his bona fides as the author of legislation he called the “Stand With Israel Act of 2014.” But I also disagreed with those who thought the libertarian was wrong to call into question the continued flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the PA. The basic flaw in America’s efforts to bolster the peace process from Bill Clinton’s day to the Obama era has been an unwillingness to make the Palestinians accountable for their actions.

But yesterday, Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk provided a timely reminder as to why Paul’s bill was really unnecessary: an aid cutoff because of the Hamas alliance is already mandated by U.S. law.

As Rubio and Kirk wrote in a joint letter to Secretary of State John Kerry:

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Last week, Senator Rand Paul set off a furious debate by putting forward a bill that would cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority because of the decision by its leaders to conclude a unity pact with the Islamist terrorists of Hamas. But rather than reap the applause of Israel’s backers, his bill was opposed by AIPAC. Paul’s latest attempt to curry favor with Jews and other members of the pro-Israel community was excoriated by the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin and wound up failing in the Senate.

I thought Paul was wrong to blast AIPAC as betraying its mandate. I also think his isolationism and steadfast opposition to vital military aid to Israel calls into question his bona fides as the author of legislation he called the “Stand With Israel Act of 2014.” But I also disagreed with those who thought the libertarian was wrong to call into question the continued flow of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the PA. The basic flaw in America’s efforts to bolster the peace process from Bill Clinton’s day to the Obama era has been an unwillingness to make the Palestinians accountable for their actions.

But yesterday, Senators Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk provided a timely reminder as to why Paul’s bill was really unnecessary: an aid cutoff because of the Hamas alliance is already mandated by U.S. law.

As Rubio and Kirk wrote in a joint letter to Secretary of State John Kerry:

The Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 sets detailed requirements for the continuation of U.S. assistance should Hamas be brought into the Palestinian Authority government. The law is very clear. If Hamas comes to have a role in governance, there must be public acknowledgment of the Jewish state of Israel’s right to exist as well as acceptance of all previous agreements the Palestinians have made with Israel, the United States, and the international community. The law also requires that demonstrable progress be made toward dismantling of Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure and purging of individuals with ties to terrorism. Moreover, Hamas would need to halt its anti-American and anti-Israel incitement. The bar is high because the stakes are high and we must make sure to stand firmly by what we have said. Failing to do so will diminish the credibility of the United States.

Rubio and Kirk are right. No new legislation is needed to make the Palestinians accountable. All that is needed is for the administration to start enforcing the law.

That it won’t do so is pretty much a given. The reason put forward by some in the pro-Israel community for keeping the flow of Uncle Sam’s cash to the PA is a reasonable one. They claim that Israel needs the PA to continue to exist. A collapse caused by the cutoff of Western funds would cause huge problems for the Israelis who always need a Palestinian interlocutor. Israel has no desire to directly interfere in the lives of West Bank Palestinians, most of whom are governed by the corrupt and incompetent PA. It also relies on security cooperation with PA forces to help keep a lid on terrorism, though it can be argued that the PA and its fearful leadership benefits even more from the relationship because the Israelis ensure that Hamas and/or Islamic Jihad can’t topple them as they did the Fatah government of Gaza in 2006.

But as Rubio and Kirk noted in their letter, the deal between Hamas and Fatah explicitly states not only that Hamas won’t disarm or cease support for terror and recognize Israel. Hamas believes the agreement forbids further security cooperation between the PA and Israel.

That pronouncement illustrates Prime Minister Netanyahu’s point about Abbas having to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas. In his desire to flee Kerry’s peace talks rather than be maneuvered into signing a peace agreement he can’t enforce, Abbas has chosen the latter. And U.S. law dictates that consequences must follow.

The key point here isn’t so much about the money, though U.S. aid plays a vital role in keeping the PA kleptocracy afloat. Rather it is that for more than 20 years U.S. governments have been whitewashing and excusing Palestinian actions and defending those decisions by saying that holding the PA accountable is bad for peace, security, and stability. Just as the failure of Kerry’s initiative was due in no small measure to the refusal of the administration to tell the truth about Abbas—who was wrongly praised as a man of peace while Netanyahu was falsely blasted as intransigent—that led the Palestinian to believe that he could stall and then walk out of talks with impunity.

Until the U.S. government starts enforcing those consequences, their behavior will never change. Paul’s bill may have been a piece of unnecessary grandstanding and friends of Israel are right to be wary of an isolationist whose rise bodes ill both for the future of American foreign policy and the U.S.-Israel alliance. But the issue he highlighted is real and demands action that unfortunately won’t be forthcoming from Obama or Kerry. 

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Why are Kay Hagan and Rand Paul Backing the Same Dead Horse?

Over the weekend, as the New York Times reported, Senator Rand Paul hosted Rupert Murdoch at the Kentucky Derby. While we don’t know whether this interesting attempt by the 2016 presidential hopeful to ingratiate himself with the influential media mogul paid off, apparently neither of the two made any money at the track while betting on the ponies. The horse Paul was backing in the big race “died” in the last hundred yards, while Murdoch left Louisville saying that he had “contributed enough to Kentucky.” But Paul’s not done betting on horses that are probably not fated to win.

Yesterday he was in North Carolina campaigning for Greg Brannon, one of the candidates in the Republican senatorial primary. Paul has been fairly cautious in the past few years about trying to exercise influence in this manner but by showing up on the eve of today’s primary, rather than just mailing in an endorsement, he was gambling his reputation on the fortunes of a fellow libertarian who has been trailing frontrunner Thom Tillis by double digits throughout the race.

While there is little doubt about who will finish first tonight in North Carolina, Brannon is hoping to keep Tillis’s vote under the 40 percent mark. That would force a runoff to be held on July 15. As it happens, embattled Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan is hoping for the same outcome. A delay in selecting the GOP nominee would give her an important boost heading into the fall general-election campaign. That is why Hagan has been paying for ads trashing Tillis as a weak conservative who is soft on ObamaCare, a not-so-subtle effort to try and help Brannon, a candidate that is likely to be a much easier opponent for the Democrat. Thus, while Paul may be seeking to enhance his reputation as a conservative kingmaker who can help the Tea Party knock off a candidate who is identified with the Republican establishment, the net effect of his efforts may be to boost the chances of the Democrats holding onto the Senate in November.

If all this sounds familiar, it should.

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Over the weekend, as the New York Times reported, Senator Rand Paul hosted Rupert Murdoch at the Kentucky Derby. While we don’t know whether this interesting attempt by the 2016 presidential hopeful to ingratiate himself with the influential media mogul paid off, apparently neither of the two made any money at the track while betting on the ponies. The horse Paul was backing in the big race “died” in the last hundred yards, while Murdoch left Louisville saying that he had “contributed enough to Kentucky.” But Paul’s not done betting on horses that are probably not fated to win.

Yesterday he was in North Carolina campaigning for Greg Brannon, one of the candidates in the Republican senatorial primary. Paul has been fairly cautious in the past few years about trying to exercise influence in this manner but by showing up on the eve of today’s primary, rather than just mailing in an endorsement, he was gambling his reputation on the fortunes of a fellow libertarian who has been trailing frontrunner Thom Tillis by double digits throughout the race.

While there is little doubt about who will finish first tonight in North Carolina, Brannon is hoping to keep Tillis’s vote under the 40 percent mark. That would force a runoff to be held on July 15. As it happens, embattled Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan is hoping for the same outcome. A delay in selecting the GOP nominee would give her an important boost heading into the fall general-election campaign. That is why Hagan has been paying for ads trashing Tillis as a weak conservative who is soft on ObamaCare, a not-so-subtle effort to try and help Brannon, a candidate that is likely to be a much easier opponent for the Democrat. Thus, while Paul may be seeking to enhance his reputation as a conservative kingmaker who can help the Tea Party knock off a candidate who is identified with the Republican establishment, the net effect of his efforts may be to boost the chances of the Democrats holding onto the Senate in November.

If all this sounds familiar, it should.

By using her campaign treasury to undermine the most electable Republican, Hagan is taking a page out of Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s underhanded but very successful push to persuade her state’s Republican primary voters to nominate Rep. Todd Akin. That investment paid huge dividends when Akin became her opponent and wound up sinking his own candidacy as well as damaging Republicans around the country with his stupid comments about rape and pregnancy.

As for Paul’s push for Brannon, a victory for the GOP underdog in North Carolina would not only enhance his prestige within the party but also herald a comeback for a Tea Party movement that the national media has been trying to bury for the last year.

But Paul’s clear affinity for his fellow doctor and libertarian shouldn’t deceive conservatives who may be hoping that Brannon is another Ted Cruz who can topple a party favorite and then go on to easily win a Senate seat. Brannon has general-election disaster written all over him. While Hagan’s use of an out-of-context quote to make it appear that Tillis was for ObamaCare is deceptive, there’s no getting around the fact that, like Akin, Brannon is a liberal dream. His controversial comments about food stamps and, in particular, his unwillingness to disagree with a 9/11 truther brand him as an extremist who has no shot at beating a competitive, if vulnerable Democrat like Hagan.

While the key to Paul’s 2016 strategy is clearly to rally the Tea Party behind him, his decision to go all in on Brannon is a mistake. Unwittingly aiding Hagan won’t endear him to most North Carolina Republicans. If his candidate does force a runoff or even somehow wins the nomination that might be a victory that he, and fellow Republicans, would come to regret.

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Was Rand Paul Wrong on Aid to the Palestinians? Not Entirely.

Something interesting happened in the Senate this week. Senator Rand Paul is someone who is not generally considered a great friend of Israel because of his knee-jerk isolationism that has led him as well as his far more extreme father to take stands that are antithetical to the U.S.-Israel alliance. But Paul just proposed something most ardent supporters of the Jewish state generally agree with: an aid cutoff to the Palestinian Authority to punish it for the decision to ally itself with Hamas terrorists. Yet AIPAC, the group that is synonymous with the pro-Israel community, wouldn’t support the bill.

That led Paul to go on Steve Malzberg’s Newsmax.com TV show yesterday to express his dismay at AIPAC in what must be considered an attempt to be more Catholic than the pope. His gibes had to sting, especially since most AIPAC supporters are also deeply critical of the PA. AIPAC wasn’t talking but was clearly pleased when Paul didn’t get unanimous consent to put forward his bill and it died on the Senate floor. However Jennifer Rubin, our former COMMENTARY colleague, didn’t pull any punches in her Washington Post blog denouncing Paul’s gesture as a “phony pro-Israel bill.”

Who’s right in this confused squabble? As difficult as it may be to unravel this tangle, the correct answer is all of them, at least in part. How is that possible? It’s complicated.

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Something interesting happened in the Senate this week. Senator Rand Paul is someone who is not generally considered a great friend of Israel because of his knee-jerk isolationism that has led him as well as his far more extreme father to take stands that are antithetical to the U.S.-Israel alliance. But Paul just proposed something most ardent supporters of the Jewish state generally agree with: an aid cutoff to the Palestinian Authority to punish it for the decision to ally itself with Hamas terrorists. Yet AIPAC, the group that is synonymous with the pro-Israel community, wouldn’t support the bill.

That led Paul to go on Steve Malzberg’s Newsmax.com TV show yesterday to express his dismay at AIPAC in what must be considered an attempt to be more Catholic than the pope. His gibes had to sting, especially since most AIPAC supporters are also deeply critical of the PA. AIPAC wasn’t talking but was clearly pleased when Paul didn’t get unanimous consent to put forward his bill and it died on the Senate floor. However Jennifer Rubin, our former COMMENTARY colleague, didn’t pull any punches in her Washington Post blog denouncing Paul’s gesture as a “phony pro-Israel bill.”

Who’s right in this confused squabble? As difficult as it may be to unravel this tangle, the correct answer is all of them, at least in part. How is that possible? It’s complicated.

Let’s state upfront that Paul’s objectives here are to:

a. Seize any opportunity to cut any kind of foreign aid, a cost-effective measure that the isolationist from Kentucky opposes in principle and which enables him to pander to the large group of Americans who also dislike the idea of sending money abroad, especially to unsavory types like Abbas; and

b. Pander to pro-Israel Jewish voters and donors in preparation for his expected 2016 run for president.

Whether one considers Paul to be sincere in his professions of friendship for Israel or not, attacking aid to the PA is an easy way to achieve both objectives and distract Americans from the fact that he also opposes the vital aid that Israel gets to maintain its qualitative military edge over its enemies.

Rubin explains the opposition to the cutoff as something that is both reasonable and linked to Israel’s interests. Quoting the insightful Elliott Abrams, she explains that pulling the plug on all U.S. aid to the Palestinians is not something the Netanyahu government wants. Some of the money goes to help fund the PA security forces that cooperate extensively with the Israelis. Without these funds the PA could collapse and leave the Israelis with the messy job of having to administer the territories as well as depriving them of the assistance that the Palestinians provide in keeping a lid on terror in the West Bank.

Thus, while the Israelis have been denouncing the PA in the last week since Abbas announced the deal with Hamas that put a formal end to the peace talks sponsored by Secretary of State John Kerry, they actually don’t want anyone in Washington to act on those complaints, at least with regard to the money that the U.S. funnels to the PA.

That means Paul’s line about AIPAC being derelict in its job is, at best, a cheap shot, and, at worse, a devious attack on a group that rightly suspects that his overtures toward the Jewish state are not to be trusted.

But before we file this incident away as an incomplete forward pass cynically aimed at Jewish voters by Paul, those who care about Israel and the slim hopes for peace need to acknowledge that the isolationist isn’t completely wrong here.

The security cooperation between the two peace partners/antagonists helps the PA as much if not more than Israel because without it Hamas might have toppled Abbas in the West Bank just as it did in Gaza in 2007. But, like it or not, Israel needs the PA to stay afloat even if it is an untrustworthy, hate fomenting foe as much as a partner.

Yet part of the problem with the PA dating back to its beginnings in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords is that it has exploited Israel’s dependence on it as a shield against accountability. Rather than use aid to the PA as leverage to force it to stand up against terror and to stop broadcasting hate and undermining peace, the U.S., often with Israel’s connivance, has given it a pass. It has been all carrot and no stick, a situation that has allowed the PA to become an institution that works hard to stoke the fires of the conflict even as it is insincerely praised as a force for peace. No matter what it does, up to and including forming a new alliance with a group that is dedicated not just to Israel’s elimination but also to genocide, it knows it can be sure that the spigot of U.S. taxpayer money funneling into the pockets of Abbas’s Fatah cronies will never be turned off. Just as Kerry’s initiative failed in large measure because of the administration’s unwillingness to press the Palestinians while they were also mercilessly bashing Israel, so, too, does the aid perpetuate the conflict as much it helps keep the peace.

While it is true the Israelis are no more interested in cutting U.S. aid to the Palestinians than the administration, Paul is right in the sense that unless something is eventually done to scare the PA straight, it will never stop feeding the anti-Zionist hate that fuels the conflict. This is a sentiment that is shared by most supporters of Israel, including AIPAC members. Nor is it surprising that the Zionist Organization of America formally endorsed Paul’s proposal.

So while Paul’s swipe at AIPAC was wrongheaded and has more to do with his ambition than any love for Israel, his critics shouldn’t be so blithe about spiking his proposal. It’s time to start holding the PA accountable for its behavior. What’s too bad is that Paul, of all people, seems to be the only one ready to do so.

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Why Americans Seem So Torn on Foreign Policy

Though comparisons between Russian leaders today and 20th century monsters like Hitler and Stalin are generally–and rightfully–resisted or corrected when used in the U.S., it’s impossible to understand the conflict in Ukraine without making room for the sense of history that hangs over Europe. Der Spiegel reports on German veterans who recognize too much of the scenes in Ukraine from their own time serving there seventy years ago (though the Germans were the invaders that time). And the New York Times notices a once-forgotten Moscow Cold War museum now swamped by visitors “drawn as much by history as by the sense that the combustible, post-World War II conflict between East and West has come roaring back to life.”

This also makes it easier to understand European nerves over American inaction. If they see the possibility of a massive war engulfing Europe’s major powers, they must also see American war-weariness and retrenchment chic as distinct but not tangibly different, for their own purposes, from the American isolationism they remember as well. So in one sense, they could be heartened by the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll which, as Max notes, shows an American public confused and hesitant about America’s role in the world but not isolationist. But that optimism is based on the sense that Americans are open to persuasion on foreign involvement, which leads to the crucial question: who is doing the persuading?

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Though comparisons between Russian leaders today and 20th century monsters like Hitler and Stalin are generally–and rightfully–resisted or corrected when used in the U.S., it’s impossible to understand the conflict in Ukraine without making room for the sense of history that hangs over Europe. Der Spiegel reports on German veterans who recognize too much of the scenes in Ukraine from their own time serving there seventy years ago (though the Germans were the invaders that time). And the New York Times notices a once-forgotten Moscow Cold War museum now swamped by visitors “drawn as much by history as by the sense that the combustible, post-World War II conflict between East and West has come roaring back to life.”

This also makes it easier to understand European nerves over American inaction. If they see the possibility of a massive war engulfing Europe’s major powers, they must also see American war-weariness and retrenchment chic as distinct but not tangibly different, for their own purposes, from the American isolationism they remember as well. So in one sense, they could be heartened by the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll which, as Max notes, shows an American public confused and hesitant about America’s role in the world but not isolationist. But that optimism is based on the sense that Americans are open to persuasion on foreign involvement, which leads to the crucial question: who is doing the persuading?

Max notes the central contradiction in the results: the pollsters asked Americans what they thought (in addition to a bevy of other issues) about foreign policy, and Americans responded, essentially, that they have no idea. They succumbed to a kind of magical thinking on foreign policy in which they want the U.S. to pull back from the world without creating a vacuum–a logical impossibility. They appear frustrated that when America plays a reduced role in world affairs its influence is replaced by Vladimir Putin instead of unicorns and labradoodles (I’m paraphrasing slightly).

But on some level that confusion is understandable because the president of the United States is arguing out loud with the straw men in his head, claiming that the alternative to toothless sanctions is total world war. Americans at home may see this as the amusing inanity of an ideologue who is losing an argument, but it’s doubtful the Europeans are laughing. It turns out there is some middle ground between treating Putin like Gilly from Saturday Night Live and nuking Moscow, though you wouldn’t know it from the commander in chief.

The fact of the matter is, as I’ve noted from time to time, the president has a unique ability to shape public opinion on foreign policy, more so than on domestic policy. Americans have internalized the president as both the leader of the free world and the commander in chief of the armed forces of the planet’s only superpower. So the public is not going to be easily persuaded on the goodness of American power projection by this administration.

Looking forward, again, Europeans are probably not too encouraged. The Democrats are seeking to succeed Obama with Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state who presided over the failed Russian “reset,” chewed out allies like Israel, and expressed regret to Pakistan–which cooperates with anti-American terrorists and sheltered Osama bin Laden–for past American policy. On the right, the debate looks to be more interesting, not least because unlike the Democrats the Republicans do want to have an actual debate, not a coronation.

Sentiments like those expressed in the poll are reflected in the way the Republican race for the nomination has taken shape so far. The president’s abject failures have opened space for those who can present a serious alternative. That means that Republicans with the most success so far have been those like Scott Walker and Rand Paul, with the former proving conservative governance can fix even deep and costly liberal mismanagement and the latter making a thoughtful case for individual liberty in the face of liberal attacks on basic freedoms.

But the effect on the foreign-policy debate has been muted. Paul advocates retrenchment (though without the apology tour, one suspects) and has warned not to “tweak Russia.” Others like Walker seem to disagree with Paul on foreign policy but as the governor of a Midwestern state locked in a battle with government unions in the midst of the dismal Obama economy, the issue doesn’t exactly come up very often. Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who possesses one of the stronger resumes of the potential 2016 class, has started branching out a bit more into foreign affairs but remains mired in a debate over education policy back home. Others are facing similar circumstances, with the high-profile exception of Marco Rubio. The Florida senator has dropped a bit in the polls recently, but he has not shied away from displaying his fluency in foreign affairs or striking a contrast to Paul’s perspective.

So yes, Americans are inclined toward the maintenance of a peaceable world order, and they are persuadable on the need for America to protect that order with a robust presence on the world stage. But they’re not going to get there on their own.

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More on Rand Paul and Jack Hunter

Because my piece on Rand Paul was so long, I decided to add this separate post, since I think it makes an important point.

Those of us who strongly object when the left constantly invokes the charge of racism against people on the right find our work made rather more difficult because of people like Jack Hunter.

To read through Mr. Hunter’s work is to journey into a very ugly and angry world. And here’s the thing: It’s a world that wasn’t hidden or shrouded in secrecy. As I pointed out in my previous post, Mr. Hunter’s words were on the public record, in his name, before he joined Rand Paul’s staff. And, for that matter, before he joined the Ron Paul presidential campaign. Senator Paul’s people had to know what they were dealing with, and what they were getting, in Jack Hunter. And when Senator Paul says he only knew “vaguely” about Hunter’s writings, what does that mean? It’s not as if what Hunter was writing about African Americans, slavery, the Confederacy, Lincoln, Booth, and all the rest were minor parts of Hunter’s oeuvre

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Because my piece on Rand Paul was so long, I decided to add this separate post, since I think it makes an important point.

Those of us who strongly object when the left constantly invokes the charge of racism against people on the right find our work made rather more difficult because of people like Jack Hunter.

To read through Mr. Hunter’s work is to journey into a very ugly and angry world. And here’s the thing: It’s a world that wasn’t hidden or shrouded in secrecy. As I pointed out in my previous post, Mr. Hunter’s words were on the public record, in his name, before he joined Rand Paul’s staff. And, for that matter, before he joined the Ron Paul presidential campaign. Senator Paul’s people had to know what they were dealing with, and what they were getting, in Jack Hunter. And when Senator Paul says he only knew “vaguely” about Hunter’s writings, what does that mean? It’s not as if what Hunter was writing about African Americans, slavery, the Confederacy, Lincoln, Booth, and all the rest were minor parts of Hunter’s oeuvre

What Mr. Hunter wrote isn’t a close call and it can’t be dismissed as the folly of youth. And what he wrote is a lot worse than “stupid,” to quote Senator Paul. We’re dealing with the morally offensive words of an adult columnist. Let’s just say that celebrating the death of Lincoln and raising “a personal toast every May 10 to celebrate John Wilkes Booth’s birthday” is disturbing even for those who may not consider Lincoln (as I do) arguably the greatest American in history. How did such a person even get an interview, let alone be hired, let alone co-author a book with Senator Paul?  

There’s something quite troubling going on here; and if Rand Paul decides he wants to try to lead the party of Lincoln, this issue isn’t going to disappear. Jack Hunter’s words will cast a long shadow.  

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The Problem with Rand Paul

In his column earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens laid out his case against Rand Paul becoming the GOP’s presidential nominee. It was a powerful indictment and perhaps one worth building on.  

Mr. Stephens highlighted what he believes would be some of the obstacles facing Senator Paul, beginning with his long political association with Jack Hunter, alias the “Southern Avenger,” who among other things wrote an April 13, 2004 column titled “John Wilkes Booth Was Right.”

The “Southern Avenger” said this:

Although Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth’s heart was in the right place, the Southern Avenger does regret that Lincoln’s murder automatically turned him into a martyr. American heroes like Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee have been unfairly attacked in recent years, but Abraham Lincoln is still regarded as a saint. Well, he wasn’t it – far from it. In fact, not only was Abraham Lincoln the worst President, but one of the worst figures in American history… The fact that April 15th is both the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination and tax day makes perfect sense. We might not even have had a federal income tax if it weren’t for him. And I imagine somewhere in hell Abe Lincoln is probably having the last laugh.


Here is Jack Hunter, writing in his own name, declaring in 2009 that “Hitler was an admirer of the 16th president for all the obvious reasons.” (The adjective “obvious” is such a nice touch.) Later that year, again in a column bearing Hunter’s name, we read this:

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In his column earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens laid out his case against Rand Paul becoming the GOP’s presidential nominee. It was a powerful indictment and perhaps one worth building on.  

Mr. Stephens highlighted what he believes would be some of the obstacles facing Senator Paul, beginning with his long political association with Jack Hunter, alias the “Southern Avenger,” who among other things wrote an April 13, 2004 column titled “John Wilkes Booth Was Right.”

The “Southern Avenger” said this:

Although Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth’s heart was in the right place, the Southern Avenger does regret that Lincoln’s murder automatically turned him into a martyr. American heroes like Thomas Jefferson and Robert E. Lee have been unfairly attacked in recent years, but Abraham Lincoln is still regarded as a saint. Well, he wasn’t it – far from it. In fact, not only was Abraham Lincoln the worst President, but one of the worst figures in American history… The fact that April 15th is both the anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination and tax day makes perfect sense. We might not even have had a federal income tax if it weren’t for him. And I imagine somewhere in hell Abe Lincoln is probably having the last laugh.


Here is Jack Hunter, writing in his own name, declaring in 2009 that “Hitler was an admirer of the 16th president for all the obvious reasons.” (The adjective “obvious” is such a nice touch.) Later that year, again in a column bearing Hunter’s name, we read this:

In 1999, I already thought Americans were too different: “America is becoming more diverse and multicultural which means the multiplicity of ideas and values will increase. Only states’ rights, the heart of the Confederate cause, can meet this challenge.”

If divorce is considered preferable to a marriage that can’t be fixed, might not divorce also be preferable to a political union that has failed as well? The Jeffersonian, decentralist philosophy and all-American radicalism I embraced fully in my youth makes even more sense today [2009] than in 1999. Whether revisiting states’ rights or going the route of full-blown secession, it would be far more logical to allow the many, very different parts of this country to pursue their own visions than to keep pretending we are all looking through the same lens. And looking back on my own past, I am reminded that any future South worth avenging would do well to revisit its own radical heritage — so that the principles of limited government might rise again.

Chris Haire, Hunter’s former editor at the Charleston City Paper, wrote this

While a member of the City Paper’s stable of freelancers, Jack wrote in support of racially profiling Hispanics, praised white supremacist Sam Francis, blasted the House of Representative’s apology for slavery, claimed that black people should apologize to white people for high crime rates, defended former Atlanta Braves pitcher and racist John Rocker and Charleston County School District board member Nancy Cook after she said some mothers should be sterilized, argued that Islam was an innately dangerous threat to the U.S, professed that he would have voted for a member a British neo-Nazi political party if he could have, considered endorsing former Council of Conservative Citizens member Buddy Witherspoon in his bid to unseat Sen. Lindsey Graham, compared Abraham Lincoln to Adolf Hitler and Ike Turner, and continued to profess the erroneous claim that the primary cause of the Civil War was not the fight over slavery, ignoring the decades of American history leading up to war and South Carolina’s very own Declaration of the Immediate Causes for Secession, which clearly note that protecting slavery was the preeminent motivation of state leaders. 

People are free to judge these columns individually, but there does seem to be a disturbing pattern here, no? Remember this, too: All of this was in the public domain before Hunter joined Senator Paul’s staff. So how exactly does such a thing happen?

Mr. Hunter–who was also the former chairman of the Charleston, South Carolina chapter of the League of the South, a secessionist group–was Senator Paul’s social media director, a person whose foreign-policy views Paul reportedly sought out, and the self-described co-author of Mr. Paul’s 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington. He was also the official blogger for Representative Ron Paul’s 2012 presidential campaign. 

Last summer, after controversy of his writings broke out based on a story by the Washington Free Beacon’s Alana Goodman, Hunter left Senator Paul’s staff. Earlier that year, Hunter wrote, “From 2010 until today, I have constantly been accused of being a propagandist for Rand Paul. It is true. I believe in Sen. Paul 100%. I have been waiting for a political figure of his type to emerge my entire life.” 

Senator Paul, who called Hunter’s writings “stupid”  and distanced himself from them, told The Huffington Post’s Howard Fineman that he had only known “vaguely” about Hunter’s writings. Hunter, Paul said, “is incredibly talented. Look and listen to the actual words and not to the headlines, people.”

Having looked at both, I can say with some confidence that the actual words are worse than the headlines.

The Journal’s Bret Stephens then focuses his column on a YouTube video of Paul in April 2009, warning that the Iraq war was started because of Dick Cheney’s connections to Halliburton. (An additional video of Paul repeatedly invoking his father Ron and criticizing Cheney can be found here.) It tells you quite a lot that Mr. Paul, without a shred of evidence, would accuse the last Republican vice president of leading America to war not because he was wrong but because he was malevolent, wanting to enrich a company for which he had been CEO.

But that’s still not where Senator Paul’s troubles end.

Despite his efforts insisting otherwise, Senator Paul was a critic of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, at least an important part of it. His opposition was not based on racism but rather on an ideological–and in this case, a libertarian–commitment.

“I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners — I abhor racism,” Paul said. “I think it’s a bad business decision to ever exclude anybody from your restaurant. But, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I think there should absolutely be no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that’s most of what I think the Civil Rights Act was about in my mind.”

There’s something else Paul said in this interview that’s worth noting. He said that one of the reasons he admired Martin Luther King Jr. is that he was “a true believer.”

“What I don’t like most about politics is almost none of them are believers,” Paul said. “And [King] was a true believer.”

So, in a very different way, is Rand Paul. He is a deeply committed libertarian–not in the bizarre and offensive way his father is, but in much nicer and neater package. (Some of the people Mr. Paul has surrounded himself with seem to be another matter.)

Rand Paul can come across as agreeable, intelligent, reasonable, with rounded rather than sharp edges. But make no mistake: he’s a “conviction politician” who is intent on reshaping his party and then his country. At the same time, he’s developed something of a talent at not revealing too much about his true views. He knows they are out of step, and in some cases directly at odds, with the views of many Republicans and indeed many Americans. And so these days he picks his targets rather carefully–the NSA, drones, foreign aid, drug legalization.

But one senses that those issues are just above the waterline–and there are others far below it that Paul would just as soon keep that way, at least until he is in a position to advance his agenda. That’s why I’d encourage you to watch the video links above. There you will see a Rand Paul who is more impolitic, more unalloyed, and I think more authentic.

I don’t believe Rand Paul is a bigot. I do think he’s a true believer. And if he runs for the presidency, it’s a fair question for Republicans to ask what it is about Senator Paul’s political beliefs that would inspire the loyalty of people like Jack Hunter. There may be a perfectly good answer to this question. Or not. But we do know this: if Republicans don’t ask it of Senator Paul, a Democratic nominee surely would.

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Immigration Debate Is Just Getting Started

Nearly every question of how a Republican politician’s stand will affect the 2016 presidential primaries must be qualified with “it depends who else runs.” And so it is with Jeb Bush’s comments on immigration. Although conservatives have more objections to Bush than on immigration, other issues–such as the Common Core, for example–just don’t have the visibility the immigration issue does. Nor do those other issues have the legislative and policy relevance of immigration: the Senate, after all, did pass an immigration reform bill.

Additionally, immigration arguably played a greater role than any other specific issue in sifting wheat from chaff in the 2012 Republican primaries. There were other factors, but it seems clear that Rick Perry was at least damaged by his comments on immigration–that if you don’t support in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrations “I don’t think you have a heart.” Bush’s comment–that such migration is “an act of love”–has been compared to Perry’s, and it’s also similar to a far better phrased version of the argument put forth by Newt Gingrich, who put it in terms of separating families. And we got a preview of how Bush’s comments might be countered in a 2016 version of those debates from Ted Cruz, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper:

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Nearly every question of how a Republican politician’s stand will affect the 2016 presidential primaries must be qualified with “it depends who else runs.” And so it is with Jeb Bush’s comments on immigration. Although conservatives have more objections to Bush than on immigration, other issues–such as the Common Core, for example–just don’t have the visibility the immigration issue does. Nor do those other issues have the legislative and policy relevance of immigration: the Senate, after all, did pass an immigration reform bill.

Additionally, immigration arguably played a greater role than any other specific issue in sifting wheat from chaff in the 2012 Republican primaries. There were other factors, but it seems clear that Rick Perry was at least damaged by his comments on immigration–that if you don’t support in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrations “I don’t think you have a heart.” Bush’s comment–that such migration is “an act of love”–has been compared to Perry’s, and it’s also similar to a far better phrased version of the argument put forth by Newt Gingrich, who put it in terms of separating families. And we got a preview of how Bush’s comments might be countered in a 2016 version of those debates from Ted Cruz, in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper:

“We need to be a nation that welcomes and celebrates legal immigrants, people who follow the rules, and come here according to the law,” said Cruz in response.

“Rule of law matters. And if you look at any sovereign nation, securing your border is critically important,” said the freshman lawmaker.

“We need to solve the problem to secure the borders and then improve and streamline legal immigration so people can come to America consistent with the rule of law,” said Cruz.

Cruz’s response is not particularly controversial, though it’s clear he’s less concerned about fixing America’s legal immigration system–which is an unholy mess–than about securing the border. Both are important: in the age of asymmetric warfare, it makes no sense to have an unsecured border; and the current restrictions and layers of red tape on immigration are artificially distorting the market for labor and creating a black market–as overregulation almost always does–to fill the demand.

More relevant to 2016 than this argument–which goes round and round, and round again–is what it indicates about the various actors involved. And it confirms the pattern we’ve seen from Ted Cruz on his strategy for the primary contest. Cruz has not taken to promoting major reform legislation or “owning” an issue such as it is. Instead, he moves with alacrity to position himself slightly closer to the party’s grassroots when such reform is proposed.

There’s nothing objectionable about the strategy. Cruz is not required to churn out white papers or author major reform legislation, and if he does run for president he’ll do so anyway. It might not be on immigration, but in all likelihood a Cruz candidacy would include a tax plan at the very least. What the strategy is allowing Cruz to do is take the temperature of the party’s grassroots as the 2016 picture fills out.

Cruz has deployed the strategy against the candidate who would probably be his closest rival for grassroots voters, Rand Paul. When the Kentucky senator staged his famous filibuster over drones to the applause of conservatives (and a few non-conservatives as well), Cruz joined him on the chamber floor for the assist. But Paul’s response to the crisis in Ukraine was too tepid for Cruz, who staked out vague but more interventionist ground:

“I’m a big fan of Rand Paul. He and I are good friends. But I don’t agree with him on foreign policy,” Cruz said. “I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world. And I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force abroad. But I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did… The United States has a responsibility to defend our values.”

Cruz portrays the difference between him and Paul as a philosophical one, which is why, as I’ve argued in the past, foreign policy is likely to be a more prominent point of contention in the 2016 GOP primary season than it was in 2012. As Jeb Bush’s comments showed, the contentious domestic issue is likely to be immigration, which is why, no matter how stalled in the House immigration legislation remains, it’s an argument that will only get louder between now and 2016.

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The Debate We Should Be Having About Rand Paul and Sanctions

Rand Paul was put on the defensive this week over criticism stemming from comments he made last year, posted on Jennifer Rubin’s Washington Post blog, on Iran sanctions: “There are times when sanctions have made it worse. There are times–leading up to World War II, we cut off trade with Japan. That probably caused Japan to react angrily. We also had a blockade on Germany after World War I, which may have encouraged some of their anger.”

As with a great many conversations involving Hitler, the debate went off course almost immediately in ways that were unfair to Paul. The senator’s senior advisor told the Post in response: “World War II was a necessary war, a just war, a fully declared war, and an entirely victorious war; the megalomaniac Hitler was to blame for the war and the Holocaust.” So some of the sympathy for Paul is warranted: his recorded statements didn’t suggest that the United States was at fault for Hitler’s rise and the subsequent consequences.

“There’s a debate to be had on foreign policy,” David Harsanyi argues, reasonably. “This isn’t it.” Harsanyi goes on to make the following point:

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Rand Paul was put on the defensive this week over criticism stemming from comments he made last year, posted on Jennifer Rubin’s Washington Post blog, on Iran sanctions: “There are times when sanctions have made it worse. There are times–leading up to World War II, we cut off trade with Japan. That probably caused Japan to react angrily. We also had a blockade on Germany after World War I, which may have encouraged some of their anger.”

As with a great many conversations involving Hitler, the debate went off course almost immediately in ways that were unfair to Paul. The senator’s senior advisor told the Post in response: “World War II was a necessary war, a just war, a fully declared war, and an entirely victorious war; the megalomaniac Hitler was to blame for the war and the Holocaust.” So some of the sympathy for Paul is warranted: his recorded statements didn’t suggest that the United States was at fault for Hitler’s rise and the subsequent consequences.

“There’s a debate to be had on foreign policy,” David Harsanyi argues, reasonably. “This isn’t it.” Harsanyi goes on to make the following point:

What Paul never contends is that Hitler’s ideology hinged on the idea of opposing Versailles. He was talking about Germany and Germans. In front of me is Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, where the author basically makes the same case and Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, in which she writes that though Versailles’ impact had likely been exaggerated by German governments, it allowed political parties like the Nazis to tap into widespread “anger” and resentment. Sounds like that’s what Rand was saying.

True enough, though it’s worth noting that in Modern Times, Johnson has much more to say about the grievances unleashed by Versailles, and they center on the ethnic strife sparked by transferring Europe to the individual nation-state model from the age of empires–“self-determination,” in Johnson’s writing, which created more restive minority populations because there were more states. Where economic factors played a role, Johnson seems to put emphasis on the fact that more states also meant more poor states, especially in the immediate postwar period, and he notes that Germany was considered to have defaulted on its postwar obligations as well. If any aspect of Versailles encouraged German expansionism, Johnson appears to blame the fact that “under the Treaty it was forbidden to seek union with Germany, which made the Anschluss seem more attractive than it actually was.”

But I think Paul’s defenders here are on less steady ground in dismissing Paul’s comments as they relate to Pearl Harbor. He prefaced his sanctions comments–at least on Pearl Harbor–by saying sometimes sanctions “have made it worse.” Taken individually, sanctions on a nation can be treated this way. But it doesn’t always apply, and it applies perhaps less to Japan than almost any other scenario (Germany, Iraq, Iran, etc.).

As some have said since Paul’s comments, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor was a sort of preemptive strike to at least temporarily avert an American response to simultaneous Japanese aggression throughout the region, including on Singapore, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. But another important facet of this is that the sanctions weren’t a surprise to Japan, because they were in response to Japanese action. As the historian Ian Toll writes, Japan took action its leaders–reminded by Admiral Yamamoto, who initially wanted to avoid an unwinnable war–knew would precipitate sanctions, and the whole process would bring them toward war:

From his flagship, Nagato, usually anchored in Hiroshima Bay, Yamamoto continued to warn against joining with the Nazis. He reminded his government that Japan imported around four-fifths of its oil and steel from areas controlled by the Allies. To risk conflict, he wrote, was foolhardy, because “there is no chance of winning a war with the United States for some time to come.”

But Japan’s confused and divided government drifted toward war while refusing to face the strategic problems it posed. It signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy in Berlin in September 1940. As Yamamoto had predicted, the American government quickly restricted and finally cut off exports of oil and other vital materials. The sanctions brought events to a head, because Japan had no domestic oil production to speak of, and would exhaust its stockpiles in about a year.

Yamamoto realized he had lost the fight to keep Japan out of war, and he fell in line with the planning process.

Yamamoto warned against the process because he wrongly thought his leaders wanted to avoid war, when in fact they provoked it. This doesn’t mean Paul is “blaming” the U.S. for the attack on Pearl Harbor (and by extension, American entry into World War II). But it raises questions about Paul’s selective use of history–and bad history does not usually inform good policy.

I have raised this issue with Paul before. When he made his major foreign-policy address a year ago, he advocated a greater emphasis on containment. But he conflated the Kennanite version of containment with the strategy that ultimately won the Cold War, which was far from the truth. In reality, Kennan’s ideas were central to the Truman administration’s decision to embrace containment, but his version of containment was so different that Kennan adamantly refused to take credit for it.

It is far from clear that a nuclear Iran would be containable the way the Soviet Union was–in fact, it’s unlikely. But Paul’s version of containment would not have even contained the Soviet Union. Paul’s habit of cherry-picking history to create precedents for his own preferred strategy seems to be present with his comments on Japanese sanctions and Pearl Harbor as well. It certainly doesn’t make him a blame-America-firster. But it does suggest unsound strategic judgment.

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Rubio and Paul Trading Places?

Much has been made about the fact that Marco Rubio struggled last year and has thrived thus far in 2014. But while Rubio never seemed to have a specific rivalry with Rand Paul (who sparred with Chris Christie and more recently Ted Cruz), the two prospective 2016 presidential candidates seem to have their political fates connected in a way others don’t: one’s loss often accompanies the other’s gain. And this year, as Rubio recovers his footing it’s Paul who appears to be struggling. That’s been fairly consistent with the two Republicans’ shared term in the Senate thus far.

When Rubio burst onto the national GOP stage in 2010 in his Senate race against Charlie Crist, conservatives loved his message but fretted that his political persona was too dependent on that one message. The concern was voiced in August of that year by Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes, who wrote: “In every appearance, including my interview with him in late July, he delivers the speech in whole or in part. There’s a reason for this: It’s an awfully good speech. It’s intensely patriotic and focused on how he’d like voters to see the choice they face in the election. It’s better than any speech I’ve heard from a Republican candidate or elected official in a long time. And Rubio delivers it passionately.”

That was all correct, but a question lingered: the right hoped Rubio would run for president sooner rather than later. Would his policy chops catch up, and could he build a record in time? The answer over the last couple of years, but especially this year so far, seems to be: Yes. His biggest setback has been his attempt to reform immigration law, but it showed at least that he wasn’t shy about putting forth detailed plans and advocating for them. Since immigration reform, he’s put out plans to tackle poverty, economic growth, higher education reform, and he hit his stride when attention turned to foreign affairs with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the popular unrest in Venezuela.

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Much has been made about the fact that Marco Rubio struggled last year and has thrived thus far in 2014. But while Rubio never seemed to have a specific rivalry with Rand Paul (who sparred with Chris Christie and more recently Ted Cruz), the two prospective 2016 presidential candidates seem to have their political fates connected in a way others don’t: one’s loss often accompanies the other’s gain. And this year, as Rubio recovers his footing it’s Paul who appears to be struggling. That’s been fairly consistent with the two Republicans’ shared term in the Senate thus far.

When Rubio burst onto the national GOP stage in 2010 in his Senate race against Charlie Crist, conservatives loved his message but fretted that his political persona was too dependent on that one message. The concern was voiced in August of that year by Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes, who wrote: “In every appearance, including my interview with him in late July, he delivers the speech in whole or in part. There’s a reason for this: It’s an awfully good speech. It’s intensely patriotic and focused on how he’d like voters to see the choice they face in the election. It’s better than any speech I’ve heard from a Republican candidate or elected official in a long time. And Rubio delivers it passionately.”

That was all correct, but a question lingered: the right hoped Rubio would run for president sooner rather than later. Would his policy chops catch up, and could he build a record in time? The answer over the last couple of years, but especially this year so far, seems to be: Yes. His biggest setback has been his attempt to reform immigration law, but it showed at least that he wasn’t shy about putting forth detailed plans and advocating for them. Since immigration reform, he’s put out plans to tackle poverty, economic growth, higher education reform, and he hit his stride when attention turned to foreign affairs with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the popular unrest in Venezuela.

Rubio seemed to sputter in 2013 as Paul saw his moment in the sun. Paul’s famous filibuster not only won him plaudits from both sides of the aisle but also got his fellow Republican senators–Rubio among them–to appear on the chamber floor as supporting characters. Then the Edward Snowden affair happened, and Paul appeared to go from potential dark horse candidate in 2016 to the top tier. As the NSA domestic surveillance revelations were easily folded into the broader narrative of President Obama’s intrusive, big-government agenda, Paul took a step toward the front of the pack.

Part of Paul’s appeal was a term and a concept we’ve come to prize in American politics, with its ubiquity of television cameras and endless debates: authenticity. Paul came across as genuine and comfortable in his own skin, and he spoke confidently and fluently to any audience that would hear from him. It was no surprise that Paul and Christie developed something of a (brief) rivalry; neither pulls punches.

But Paul comes across as genuinely uncomfortable talking about foreign crises where the choice isn’t war or peace but something in the middle. Ukraine has made the contrast with Rubio clear, not just on policy but on the fact that events have shifted onto the latter’s turf. Paul’s TIME magazine piece on the appropriate American reaction to the Crimean crisis has already come in for some tough criticism, for example from National Review’s Patrick Brennan, who called Paul’s ideas “terrible or delusional.” But what caught my attention was more the stylistic clumsiness of the messaging–not that U.S. senators should be graded on whether their prose matches up to Tolstoy’s but to their own. In other words, Paul’s surefootedness is completely absent. For example:

America is a world leader, but we should not be its policeman or ATM.

At the end of the day, I still agree with former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen — the greatest threat to America’s security is our national debt.

Russia, the Middle East or any other troubled part of the world should never make us forget that the U.S. is broke. We weaken our security and defenses when we print money out of thin air or borrow from other countries to allegedly support our own.

Like Dwight Eisenhower, I believe the U.S. can actually be stronger by doing less.

Like Ronald Reagan, particularly regarding Russia, I also believe, “Don’t mistake our reluctance for war for a lack of resolve.”

That’s just a sample, but much of the piece is written that way. It’s unlike Paul to speak without saying something, but he comes close to doing so on Ukraine. More than a week before Paul’s piece was published, Rubio published at Politico an immediate reaction to the crisis, whose applicability showed he was either prepared for the Russian action or he didn’t need to be to know how to react.

The issues underpinning Rubio and Paul’s fortunes demonstrate something else: unlike Christie’s “bridgegate,” which involved his staff, for Paul and Rubio events beyond their control have exerted upward or downward pressure on them–in Paul’s case, the NSA revelations and for both the crisis in Ukraine (and to a lesser extent Venezuela). It shows the degree of uncertainty and luck in the process. But then again, that’s often how it is in the White House too.

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Cruz to Rand: Tea Party ≠ Isolationist

Senator Rand Paul is smart enough not to place too much importance on his victory in the presidential straw poll held at the recently concluded CPAC conference. Paul was undoubtedly the favorite of the conservative activists who attended the annual big conservative jamboree and received the biggest ovation of all the GOP stars who spoke there. Yet he is sure to remember that his father Ron also won the straw poll in 2010 and 2011 without it aiding his noisy but ultimately futile 2012 presidential candidacy.

However no one, least of all, his GOP rivals, should think that Paul hasn’t expanded his base from his father’s band of libertarian extremists or won’t be a first tier contender in 2016 when runs for president. He has maintained the momentum he got from his filibuster on drones last year while also carefully avoiding confrontations with the GOP establishment he’s eager to supersede. Many of his backers thought the disastrous government shutdown was a good idea and want to make all members of the party leadership to pay for the compromises they forged in order to extricate Republicans from the corner into which the Tea Party had painted them. However, Paul is quietly backing his Kentucky colleague Mitch McConnell for re-election. He’s also sent out signals to the establishment that he should be trusted to avoid extremism by saying that the shutdown wasn’t such a good idea.

But none of that changes the fact that Paul remains outside the mainstream of his party on foreign policy. As Ted Cruz, Paul’s main rival for the affection of Tea Party voters, reminded the country today on ABC’s “This Week,” it would be a mistake to think the Kentucky senator’s neo-isolationist views represent the sentiments of most conservatives or even Tea Partiers. Resentment against big government and suspicion of President Obama’s actions may have helped boost Paul’s popularity, but the idea that it is Rand’s party on foreign policy is a myth.

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Senator Rand Paul is smart enough not to place too much importance on his victory in the presidential straw poll held at the recently concluded CPAC conference. Paul was undoubtedly the favorite of the conservative activists who attended the annual big conservative jamboree and received the biggest ovation of all the GOP stars who spoke there. Yet he is sure to remember that his father Ron also won the straw poll in 2010 and 2011 without it aiding his noisy but ultimately futile 2012 presidential candidacy.

However no one, least of all, his GOP rivals, should think that Paul hasn’t expanded his base from his father’s band of libertarian extremists or won’t be a first tier contender in 2016 when runs for president. He has maintained the momentum he got from his filibuster on drones last year while also carefully avoiding confrontations with the GOP establishment he’s eager to supersede. Many of his backers thought the disastrous government shutdown was a good idea and want to make all members of the party leadership to pay for the compromises they forged in order to extricate Republicans from the corner into which the Tea Party had painted them. However, Paul is quietly backing his Kentucky colleague Mitch McConnell for re-election. He’s also sent out signals to the establishment that he should be trusted to avoid extremism by saying that the shutdown wasn’t such a good idea.

But none of that changes the fact that Paul remains outside the mainstream of his party on foreign policy. As Ted Cruz, Paul’s main rival for the affection of Tea Party voters, reminded the country today on ABC’s “This Week,” it would be a mistake to think the Kentucky senator’s neo-isolationist views represent the sentiments of most conservatives or even Tea Partiers. Resentment against big government and suspicion of President Obama’s actions may have helped boost Paul’s popularity, but the idea that it is Rand’s party on foreign policy is a myth.

The assumption that all those who sympathize with the Tea Party agree with Paul on foreign policy is as much a product of liberal mainstream media manipulation as is the canard that they are racists. Those who identify with or view the movement favorably share a common mindset about the need to push back against the expansion of big government and the tax and spend policies that are its foundation. But many of those who call themselves Tea Partiers want nothing to do with Paul’s antipathy for a strong defense and unwillingness to maintain a stalwart U.S. presence abroad to stand up for our allies and our values.

Cruz has carved out a niche for himself among those most antagonistic to the party establishment as well as the liberal big government machine. But today he outlined a point on which he, and many other grass roots conservatives part company with Paul:

“I’m a big fan of Rand Paul,” Cruz said in an interview aired Sunday.” “We are good friends. I don’t agree with him on foreign policy. U.S. leadership is critical in the world. I agree we should be reluctant to deploy military force aboard, but there’s a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did. When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an Evil Empire, when he stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate and said ‘Tear down this wall.’ Those words changed the course of history. The United States has a responsibility to defend our values.”

In doing so, Cruz drew a clear distinction between his beliefs and a Paulite view of America’s place in the world that is for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from Obama’s predilection for retreat from confrontations with aggressors such as Iran or Russia.

Paul sought to align himself with Reagan’s foreign policy views on Fox News Sunday by declaring that his “reluctance for war” shouldn’t be confused with a “lack of resolve.” But to defend that position he cited an op-ed published in the Washington Post on the crisis in the Ukraine by Henry Kissinger as something he agreed with.

While no one doubts Dr. Kissinger’s deep store of knowledge about foreign policy, his piece combined common sense about the limits of America’s ability to undo Russia’s seizure of the Crimea with a sorry rationalization for Vladimir Putin’s aggression. The former secretary of state’s citation of Russian claims to the Ukraine and attempt to argue against strong Western outrage about this crime was exactly the wrong message to send to Russia at a time when it is trying to subvert the independence of that country in order to reassemble in one form or another the late and unlamented Tsarist/Soviet Empire.

The article was a cri de Coeur for a revival not of Reaganite foreign policy but of Kissinger’s own amoral détente with the Soviets that treated human rights (including the fate of a persecuted Soviet Jewry) as an unimportant detail. This sort of “realism” has always had its advocates within the GOP but it was exactly the sort of Republican establishment mindset that Reagan bitterly opposed in the 1976 and 1980 GOP primaries.

For the last generation, the Republican mainstream has, with some notable exceptions, united behind policies that emphasized a strong defense and a foreign policy that rejected retreat in the face of aggression while also upholding American values. It is interesting as well as gratifying to see that for all of his desire to torch the establishment on every other issue, Ted Cruz is very much part of this consensus. Paul can pretend he was more influenced by Reagan than his extremist father (whose views on foreign policy would make him more at home on the far left than the right). But as long as he remains an outlier on this crucial element of presidential politics, he shouldn’t be thought of as representing all Tea Partiers, let alone most Republicans.

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Does Rand’s GOP Think NSA is the Enemy?

In a week in which Americans were reminded that Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney were right and President Obama was wrong about Russia being the primary geo-strategic threat to their country, Senator Rand Paul brought a different perspective on the world to the CPAC conference today. Coming as it did after days of speeches from other conservatives that centered on Obama’s weakness in the face of international terror and Russian aggression as well as concerns about social issues and economic and the need to address the concerns of working people and the poor, Paul changed the subject. In his speech, the Kentucky senator centered on one subject: the threat to civil liberties from an intrusive government. In Rand Paul’s world al-Qaeda and Vladimir Putin are mere annoyances; the real foe is the National Security Agency and its metadata mining.

There are two conclusions can be drawn from this speech that was cheered to the echo by the audience at CPAC. One is that if CPAC activists are a representative sample of the grass roots of the Republican Party (a debatable but not outlandish assumption), there’s little question that Paul has a leg up on the 2016 presidential race. The other is that if those cheers mean that if it’s Rand’s GOP then it is a party with little chance to win in two years no matter what happens in November 2014. As much as Paul’s soaring rhetoric about liberty resonates with the party’s base — and indeed with most Republicans — his obsessive antagonism to national security issues and disinterest in a strong American foreign policy is likely to help doom the GOP to permanent minority status.

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In a week in which Americans were reminded that Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney were right and President Obama was wrong about Russia being the primary geo-strategic threat to their country, Senator Rand Paul brought a different perspective on the world to the CPAC conference today. Coming as it did after days of speeches from other conservatives that centered on Obama’s weakness in the face of international terror and Russian aggression as well as concerns about social issues and economic and the need to address the concerns of working people and the poor, Paul changed the subject. In his speech, the Kentucky senator centered on one subject: the threat to civil liberties from an intrusive government. In Rand Paul’s world al-Qaeda and Vladimir Putin are mere annoyances; the real foe is the National Security Agency and its metadata mining.

There are two conclusions can be drawn from this speech that was cheered to the echo by the audience at CPAC. One is that if CPAC activists are a representative sample of the grass roots of the Republican Party (a debatable but not outlandish assumption), there’s little question that Paul has a leg up on the 2016 presidential race. The other is that if those cheers mean that if it’s Rand’s GOP then it is a party with little chance to win in two years no matter what happens in November 2014. As much as Paul’s soaring rhetoric about liberty resonates with the party’s base — and indeed with most Republicans — his obsessive antagonism to national security issues and disinterest in a strong American foreign policy is likely to help doom the GOP to permanent minority status.

It should be conceded that Paul’s absolutist view of the Fourth Amendment is popular with a lot of Americans who rightly worry about an intrusive big government. That cynicism about the all-powerful state is exacerbated by President Obama’s unconstitutional power grabs on health care, selective enforcement of laws, an out-of-control IRS and spying on the press. His views also resonate with conservatives who like his rhetoric about the party being true to its principles rather than moderating itself in what seems like a vain quest for mainstream approval.

The defense of freedom must always be America’s priority. But what he seems to forget is that the primary element of that defense are not lawsuits against the National Security Agency or paranoia about drone attacks on law-abiding Americans sitting in Starbucks. It requires a strong national defense rather than one gutted by Obama’s cuts that Paul doesn’t seem very upset about. And it also must be based on a robust foreign policy rooted in an understanding that international threats can’t be ignored or wished away by isolationist rhetoric.

The problem with Rand’s vision of the GOP isn’t that Americans think foreign policy is their top concern. That isn’t true even in a week in which foreign news is leading the headlines thanking to Putin’s aggression in the Ukraine. But most Americans know that, for all of their cynicism about government, treating the NSA as the boogeyman is no substitute for an approach for dealing with the world. If Republicans head into the fall of 2016 with Paul as their champion against Hillary Clinton, it will be the author of the comical “reset” with Russia and the person who asked “does it really matter?” about Benghazi that will be seen as the one with the credentials on foreign policy, not the nominee of the party of Ronald Reagan.

Paul’s extreme libertarianism and anti-war approach does offer the GOP a chance to win some votes on the left that will see his foreign policy as indistinguishable from that of liberal Democrats. But it will also concede the vast center of American politics to the Democrats while doing little to bridge the gap with women and minority voters that doomed Mitt Romney in 2012. Conservatives are right to think the GOP must be true to its principles in order to win. Rand’s base has also expanded from the extremists he inherited from his father. But Paul’s foreign policy is not consistent with the traditional Republican attitude toward national defense and it will lose the party votes it can’t make up elsewhere.

A year after his drone filibuster that made him a star, Paul is still basking in the applause from a conservative following that has come to view all government programs — not just the welfare state but national defense too — as the enemy. As other potential front-runners have faltered there is no denying that he is ahead of most of his would-be 2016 competitors. But today’s speech is a reminder to Republicans that a commitment to his agenda could leave them looking foolish when events and the will of the voters obligate them to put forward a view of the world that takes into account America’s real enemies as well as the imperative to fund a viable national defense.

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