GOP Hawks Prepare for War—Against Rand Paul

Wary of the noninterventionist's potential 2016 presidential bid


According to several donors at the Republican Jewish Coalition conference held in Las Vegas last weekend, the billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is prepared to fund a campaign against Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) if he picks up increased support during his widely anticipated presidential run in 2016.

Several prominent GOP donors at the conference suggested that Adelson, who spent more than $100 million backing Newt Gingrich and Romney in 2012, is likely to spend vast sums against Paul if he appears to be well positioned in the Republican primaries. Adelson's spending is largely motivated by his strong concern for Israel, and Paul's positions may well put a target on his back. 

According to TIME, one unnamed former Mitt Romney bundler said it was "scary" that Paul could win the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary.

More from TIME:

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is hard at work laying the groundwork for an almost certain presidential campaign in 2016, but as he broadens his support among libertarian and younger voters, there's a budding counter-campaign to take him down if he becomes a threat to actually win the nomination.

At the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) meeting in Las Vegas this weekend, Paul was nowhere to be found, but his presence was felt in the form of a straw man — and frequent worry. Speaker after speaker, from former Florida governor Jeb Bush to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, laid into Paul's more isolationist views on foreign policy. They never mentioned the lawmaker by name, but the message came across loud and clear.

The conference brings together some of the biggest names — and wallets — in Republican politics, most notably billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. At a private dinner for VIP donors in an Adelson-owned aircraft hangar holding one of his pair of Boeing 747s, Bush was asked about the growing isolationist wing of the Republican Party and replied there was no such thing — effectively casting Paul out of the fold, according to attendees.

Background on Paul's Foreign Policy

Like his father, former Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas), Rand Paul, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, advocates for a less involved American foreign policy. However, Rand Paul's brand of non-intervention is not a rigid as his father's.

In February last year, Paul went to the conservative Heritage Foundation and gave a speech in which he argued for a foreign policy that is neither isolationist nor neoconservative and is open to using containment as a way to address the threat of Islamic terrorism. Watch the speech below:

During his time in the Senate Paul has come out against American intervention abroad, perhaps most notably relating to the conflict in Syria and urging the U.S. not to rub Russian President Vladimir Putin the wrong way amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

Analysis and Commentary

Unsurprisingly, some conservatives aren't happy about Paul's foreign policy proposals.

The neoconservative columnist Jennifer Rubin has mentioned Paul 143 times between March 1 and March 21 in her blog at The Washington Post. Some of the recent headlines of Rubin's posts include "Rand Paul's fake foreign policy" and "Rand Paul is the odd man out of the GOP on foreign policy." Yesterday one of Rubin's posts was headlined "Rand Paul trashed military option for Iran and blamed the U.S. for WWII."

Writing about Paul's speech at the most recent Conservative Political Action Conference, Rubin outlined in characteristically blunt language her feelings about Paul's opinions on foreign policy:

…Paul's spiel is certainly indifferent to if not at odds with what is going on in the world. Should we be alarmed that Iran is getting the bomb, Russia is invading a neighbor and there is a war of genocidal proportions in Syria? No, the greatest danger is the government's (nonexistent) eavesdropping on your phone calls. Not only is his shtick divorced from world events, but it also is entirely alien to the experience and concerns of most Americans who are worried about health care, the economy, the middle-class squeeze, etc. Other than people exactly like those in the ballroom, who is going to find this the most compelling message out of all the Republican contenders' agendas? He keeps saying he will reach out to African Americans and Hispanics, but the crowd that love him was overwhelmingly white and male. And if he is serious about immigration reform (he told Silicon Valley he was), he kept it to himself.

Rubin continued:

He is after all a libertarian, not a mainstream conservative, and his disinclination to speak about anything but his paranoid vision of the government leaves little room for reform or problem-solving. This one-note fear of government has limited selling power in the Republican Party, most especially during times of rising international threats.

Writing in Forbes, David Adesnik, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, criticized Paul for flip-flopping on the Ukraine crisis:

My best guess is that Paul is desperately searching for some framework or ideology that can justify the dovish, perhaps even isolationist instincts he inherited from his father. Yet he doesn't know enough about foreign policy to think even one or two steps ahead, so he jumps into the breach with a loudly unorthodox position, only to find himself embarrassed when events demonstrate his ignorance. Then he starts firing in every direction, not knowing what to make of a world that doesn't conform to his preferences. I don't get the sense Paul is learning from his mistakes, so I wouldn't be surprised if we see the same pattern play out again before long.

In an oped for Breitbart News, Paul implicitly criticized fellow potential 2016 contender Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for trying to claim Reagan's mantle after making a distinction between Paul's foreign policy and Reagan's. The Daily Caller senior editor Jamie Weinstein wrote that Paul and Reagan have little in common when it comes to foreign policy:

Paul may be right when he says that none of the Republicans considering a White House run in 2016 have a foreign policy outlook exactly like Reagan's. But what's undeniable is that Paul's foreign policy is far and away the least Reaganeque of any of the possible 2016 Republican presidential contenders.

What Paul is trying to do is muddy the waters on Reagan's foreign policy legacy in order to hide the reality that his foreign policy outlook bears no resemblance to that of the Gipper's — and, more broadly, is wildly out of touch with the Republican mainstream. Sure, Reagan engaged in diplomacy, even occasionally when some in his own party believed it inadvisable. But that hardly makes Reagan a Rand Paul-style non-interventionist. Far from it.

Paul says he, like Reagan, supports "peace through strength." Except Reagan's notion of "peace through strength" focused on increasing military spending. Paul has not yet discovered a military cut he didn't like.

Paul's foreign policy has been criticized by liberals as well as conservatives. Writing in Politico earlier this month, Will Marshall, the president of the Progressive Policy Institute, argued that Paul's thoughts on foreign policy put him in a politically awkward situation:

Politically speaking, Paul faces an intractable dilemma: If he embraces his inner libertarian, he'll stir excitement among liberty-loving younger Republicans—GOP strategist Bill Kristol cuttingly calls them "Snowden Republicans"—as well as many on the left who take a dim view of U.S. power and motives. But he will alienate many social conservatives and Tea Party "patriots" who still believe in American exceptionalism, as well as mainstream Republicans who see military strength as a more reliable basis for U.S. security than withdrawing from a fractious world.

So maybe Paul has no choice but to keep trying to reconcile incompatible conceptions of America's role in the world. So far, he's produced only a muddle.

Like Adesnik, Marshall also argued that Paul's comments on Ukraine are confused:

Consider Paul's ideas for punishing Russia, which are so inconsistent they sometimes cancel each other out: Paul the geopolitical hardliner calls for restarting work on American missile defense systems in Eastern Europe that were suspended as part of Obama's unsuccessful "reset" of U.S.-Russian relations. But Paul the skinflint insists that "the Europeans pay for it"—which means the missile shields probably won't go up. In one breath, Paul calls for more vigorous U.S. action to punish Russia for its rogue behavior; in the next he bemoans the fact that America is "broke" and can't be the world's ATM or policeman. This puzzling logic sometimes sound like a Zen koan: "Like Dwight Eisenhower, I believe the U.S. can actually be stronger by doing less," he wrote in Time.

While insisting that he stands with Ukraine against Moscow's attempts to dismember the country, Paul also ruled out U.S. economic aid to Ukraine because it might go to Russia to pay Kyiv's enormous gas bills. In Paul's view, energy isn't just a cudgel Putin uses to intimidate neighboring countries—it's also the main weapon America has to wean Europeans from dependence on Russian gas and oil. In contrast to Obama's supposed dithering on energy, Paul calls for aggressively exporting U.S. natural gas to Europe and demands, weirdly, "immediate construction of the Keystone Pipeline."

Reason on Rand Paul

Reason has extensive coverage of Rand Paul and his foreign policy, which can be read here. Some highlights:

Matt Welch wrote on the fight between Paul and Cruz over the Gipper's mantle.

I wrote about how despite what neoconservatives might say, Paul is not an isolationist. I also considered whether the American public will pay attention to Paul's foreign policy.

Brian Doherty wrote about the "rhetorical judo" Paul has used on those who criticize his positions on foreign policy.