Rand Paul

Rand Paul Supports the Hagel Filibuster: Will It Lose Him Antiwar Libertarians?


The places where antiwar conservatives and libertarians gather are mad at Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for participating in the filibuster against the Chuck Hagel nomination vote for Secretary of Defense.

Ed Krayewski blogged about Paul's stated reasons for this here at Hit and Run earlier today, focusing on whether he had been properly transparent about possible sketchy foreign donations. (Dave Weigel at Slate takes on one of the more lurid accusations against Hagel, involving accusations of donations from an apparently non-existent terror loving group, "Friends of Hamas.")

Many antiwar folk see Hagel as a best-case-scenario in this vale of tears for a Defense Secretary who isn't reflexively for Middle East war. And from that perspective, the guy who tried last week to set himself up as the new voice for a Republican foreign policy of containment of, rather than war against, radical Islam is losing the thread and losing any chance for their love.

An impassioned voice along those lines, Daniel Larison at American Conservative, who insists Paul is "permanently damaged" by his Hagel move:

It was bad enough that Sen. Paul chose to side with the people who loathe the foreign policy of restraint he was describing last week, but what made it even worse is that a yes vote from Paul would have concluded this drawn-out farce of a confirmation process and allowed the Senate to vote on the nomination itself. Four other Republicans voted for cloture, and none of them had just given a speech outlining an argument for a "more restrained foreign policy." If any Republican in the Senate should have rejected the extraordinary filibuster of a Cabinet nominee, it ought to have been Paul.

…. the justification he gave may have been the worst of all. If Paul had some irreconcilable disagreement with Hagel on principle or policy, it would have at least made sense to vote as he did. Instead, Paul endorsed one of the worst, least credible anti-Hagel arguments of all, which is essentially the Ted Cruz argument that Hagel needs to "prove" that he is not in league with foreign governments or sympathetic with terrorists. If he ended up voting yes on the nomination, Paul could repair some of the damage with antiwar conservatives and libertarians, and he could make good on his claim to being a realist, but most of the damage will likely be permanent….

I have been unable so far to get any direct comment from Paul on Hagel past his official statement that Krayewski blogged. So it's all speculation, but perhaps an argument could be made to mollify the antiwar right and libertarian wings that he knew the attempt to filibuster was merely a delaying tactic prelude to an eventual nomination--thus winning him those good team player brownie points without actually preventing a possibly pretty good Secretary of Defense. (For such a political tack to work, Paul could never say such a thing out loud, even if true.)

Maybe. Or maybe he genuinely thinks Hagel might be crummy, or not better than whoever the eventual nominee might be if somehow they actually did prevent him from ending up DefSec. In this case, contra Larison, it helps that his stated reasons for jumping on the filibuster have nothing to do with his policy positions, but with vague worries about possible appearances of impropriety possibly buried in non-public records, even if those worries are silly.

Jim Antle at Daily Caller collates a lot of the anger at Paul over the Hagel move.

UPDATE: Rand Paul addresses antiwar anger to the Daily Caller. The gist: Hagel is by no means such a tried and true noninterventionist that Paul should feel obligated to support him unquestioningly:

"You would think by some of the comments I get that Hagel is really Harry Browne," Paul quipped, referring to the 1996 and 2000 Libertarian Party presidential candidate. "They make him out to be some sort of libertarian champion, and he's not."

Paul allowed that Hagel favored a "somewhat less aggressive foreign policy," but described him as a "believer in most intervention," listing his votes in favor of the Patriot Act, foreign aid and the Iraq war.

"All of this is not to say that I won't in the end still vote to allow him," Paul said. "But I also want information on Brennan and I need my colleagues' support."

"Do I think Hagel deserves credit for being a war hero and for speaking out against waste in the Pentagon?" Paul asked. "Yes."

But the senator said he doubted Hagel would have much impact on the Obama administration's foreign policy. "I'm not sure Obama is less interventionist than Bush," Paul said.

[Original Post Resumes]:

Justin Raimondo at Antiwar.com presents the detailed case for why antiwar folk should crave Defense Secretary Hagel. The nub:

The American people are sick and tired of the untrammeled militarism that has characterized our foreign policy for the past decade or so. They are also sick and tired of the chickenhawks and laptop bombardiers who have exhausted the nation's resources, demoralized our military, and brought us to the brink of national bankruptcy. That's one of the reasons they rejected the GOP in a landslide election, and it's why polls show a plurality of support for Hagel's confirmation, including 28 percent of Republicans. This, after an unprecedented smear campaign, including television ads, in which the Israeli lobby threw everything at the nominee but the kitchen sink…

No doubt the anti-Hagel hate campaign – and the phony "revelations" – will continue. After all, political consultants have to make a living, and the neocon smear machine has plenty of funding – yes, foreign funding – to grease its wheels. So those wheels will continue to turn, but this perpetual motion contraption is quickly churning itself into irrelevance. No one but the neocons' dwindling hard-right fan base is even listening anymore – and, with this defeat, their power is on the wane….

Hagel is no Ron Paul: I don't agree with his views in several important instances, but those disagreements pale beside the one vitally important aspect of this affair: a prominent public figure who has taken on the Israel lobby has somehow managed to make it through most of the confirmation process and is almost certain to become Secretary of Defense. That is a great victory….

Daniel McCarthy at American Conservative warns libertarians or peaceniks inclined to want to like Paul that his goals and theirs might not coincide. Quotes with comment:

Rand's vote shouldn't come as a surprise, and there are a few things that we should all understand going forward.

Since he first won the Kentucky GOP Senate nomination in 2010, Rand Paul has set out to become the Republican's Republican—not in the sense of being the most loyal party trooper, but in the sense of being its most ideologically committed leader. So when other Republicans propose cutting government, Rand urges deeper cuts. When Marco Rubio gives the party's official State of the Union rebuttal, Rand gives the Tea Party response. The brand he cultivates is that of the antithesis of the RINO Republican. He takes the party's core rhetorical concerns—taxes, states' rights, smaller government—and pushes them farther….

But if that were all Senator Paul wanted to do, he would not make a speech at the Heritage Foundation citing George Kennan and calling himself a realist. Talk is cheap—but these weren't words that fit with his attempt to be the Republican's Republican. Nor have some of his efforts on civil libertarian issues and the drug war in particular been what you would expect from someone who just wants to be as acceptable as possible to the activist GOP base. One should not make too much of this—but one should not dismiss it, either.

I think one needs to make a lot of it, actually. McCarthy hits on a difficult dichotomy in Paul's political goals, but I think he is overweighting one over the other. There is no way to make sense of some of Paul's actions except by saying that, sometimes, he's trying to fit in very well with what an expected GOP voter could be expected to approve of. But there's no way to make sense of others without assuming he is a sincere libertarian trying to further sincere libertarian goals.

I don't think we have enough evidence to be sure which will dominate as his career goes on--especially if you read the Hagel move in light of an awareness on his part that Hagel will end up with the gig.

More McCarthy:

There's a very important lesson here that opponents of neoconservatism have studiously refused to learn: in politics, the only things you can rely on—underscore "rely"—are money and votes. If you have either of those—if you have Sheldon Adelson or John Hagee–you can modify a Republican politician's behavior, whatever his personal ideological orientation. There are no votes and no billionaires on the side of noninterventionism, not in a GOP primary. When Ron Paul voters announce that they won't support his son in 2016, they're not making a credible threat, because Ron Paul never had enough votes in 2008 or 2012 to get close to the GOP nomination, and there's plenty of campaign cash to be had elsewhere than from Ron Paul's small donors. Rand Paul doesn't need you. He wants you—just as he wants every vote he can get—but he's not going to choose your single vote over the votes of 200 ill-informed GOP primary voters who believe what Fox News tells them about Chuck Hagel.

I think it's true, and I told Business Insider as much when Paul endorsed Romney, that Paul will be more willing to alienate a core angry Paulite antiwar audience than the great mass of Republicans. That said, I think Paul recognizes that there is a lot of necessary money and support in his father's base--over 2 million is not a laughable amount of votes to lose, especially in a game of margins. Ron Paul nearly outraised Santorum and Gingrich combined in 2012, and there are potential superrich libertarians to play the SuperPac game for Rand if need be. 

That said, we don't know the extent to which being a supernoninterventionist who makes every decision to satisfy other supernoninterventionists is key to not losing the Paul base. I don't think Paul is ready to give it up entirely, though he may be thinking that though certain bastions of print and Net commentary full of very serious and dedicated antiwar conservatives and libertarians exist, and you can get the 'Net riled by crossing them, they are a small portion of that Ron Paul 2 million.

Neither I nor McCarthy nor Paul can be sure how many such diehards there are, or how vital keeping them fully satisfied may be for Paul's career going forward. Especially given that Paul made sure his stated reasons had nothing to do with Hagel being insufficiently raring for Middle East War. That leaves room for even those who see staunch noninterventionism as the highest political value to decide that, though it's a shame Paul wasn't bold enough to tell the neocons to shove it on Hagel, that he's still the best the Party has to offer on foreign policy.

This is not written in my own defense of the idea, nor in denial of the idea, that Hagel is a secretary of defense that all antiwar folk must of necessity get behind or be cast into outer darkness. I have not put in the hours thoroughly exploring his record, though I like that he seems willing to not reflexively assume that what's good for Israel is good for the U.S. of A.

Me in the Sunday New York Times on Paul's attempts to build a less bellicose Republican Party.

Bonus Hageliana: an alas unaired SNL sketch that mocks the reflexive Israel above all questioning of Hagel, which the standard right is finding disgraceful, arguing that Hagel's own bad performance is far, far funnier a topic.