In the ongoing reality show that is American presidential politics, it is no secret that Rand Paul is positioning himself for a run in the 2016 Republican primaries. During a February 2008 rally for his father Ron Paul’s presidential campaign, he delivered a stirring speech regarding the United States’ wide drift from the original principles of our Founding Fathers towards the imperial presidency. However, his recent deviations from the principled, common sense foreign policy views of libertarians and liberals indicate that he is trying to present himself as a “moderate.” Unfortunately, in electoral politics, a “moderate” is someone who supports the necessary special interests needed to fund his campaign and, above all, favors the national security status quo.
Rand Paul continues to maintain that Congress should cut all foreign aid in half, with an emphasis on countries “that don’t act like our allies,” despite the fact that foreign aid only accounts for slightly more than 1% of the federal budget. Although he’s resuming his father’s argument that Israel would be stronger without U.S. assistance, he’s stated that military cuts would be in the long term and would certainly not be anything” immediate, dramatic, or draconian.” This cop out prevents him from having to make any concrete commitments to reduce military aid to Israel during his campaign or potential presidency.
Additionally, a group of American evangelical Christians accompanied Paul on his trip to Israel in January to boost his pro-Israel credentials. American evangelicals are a key component of the pro-Israel lobby, which any presidential candidate needs to be perceived as viable. Predictably, he used his trip to express his unflinching support for Israel at the expense of Palestine, and has reaffirmed the absurdly illogical cliché that any attack on Israel is an attack on the U.S. He has defended his amorphous position on reducing military aid to Israel to argue that without such extensive aid, the U.S. will not be in a position to criticize illegal Israeli settlement expansion and West Bank annexation, which the Obama administration has at least had the temerity to do.
In regards to the national security state, he joined his Republican counterparts in obstructing Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense. Hard-line Republican war hawks who favor even more drastic intervention in the Middle East perceive Hagel as anti-Israel and weak on “defense.” Ultimately, despite Paul’s vote for the filibuster, he dissented from his fellow Republicans by affirming Hagel’s nomination on the grounds that he merely favored the filibuster to extract more information on last year's Benghazi attack despite the previous hearings and disclosures from the Obama administration.
This allows Paul to pick up support from the GOP establishment, but also allows him to avoid alienating his libertarian base by asserting that he voted for a less hard-line interventionist defense secretary. However, Hagel’s support of Obama’s drone program and the option to invade Iran render him an unfit option for anyone serious about reforming U.S. foreign policy. Paul’s support of the Hagel filibuster was only designed to keep the Republican spotlight on Benghazi, while his ultimate “aye” vote for the nomination was an endorsement of the Obama administration’s national security status quo. Thus, the reality is that Rand Paul showed no critique of the imperial presidency that his father so staunchly opposed.
Even as Paul seeks begins to put himself in line with the national security apparatuses, he is not yet ready to risk completely alienating his libertarian base, whose support he likely wishes to maintain for the 2016 primaries. Thus, he has reaffirmed his opposition to Obama’s nomination of John Brennan as CIA director on account of the drone program’s lack of transparency. Furthermore, in his Tea Party rebuttal to Obama’s State of the Union address, he argued that in addition to domestic sequestration, Congress should allow military sequestration to happen because the 31% cuts would still place military spending at a higher rate than it was in the 1990s, on par with military spending during the Cold War.
Rand Paul’s bid for the 2016 presidency seems to be banking on a strategy that brings in support from big name donors and the GOP establishment, while throwing enough bones to the anti-establishment libertarians opposed to the national security state. However, his hard-line, draconian cuts to essential domestic programs and spending may very well be enough to win over these libertarians, despite their foreign policy misgivings, allowing him to conform even more to the national security status quo as 2016 approaches.