This year has been a very good year for Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has been elevated into the media spotlight as a champion of libertarian and Tea Party politics. Like his father Ron Paul, Rand has made a name for himself as a staunch opponent of big government politics. As a result of his new-found popularity, he has been mentioned frequently as a possible presidential candidate in 2016. However, despite his appeal among libertarian conservatives, Paul has had less success in winning over the broader conservative base. Possibly as a result of this, Paul has recently expressed opinions, particularly regarding foreign policy, that seem to be more centrist than the traditional libertarian positions expressed by his father, possibly as a strategic move to broaden his appeal prior to a run at the presidency.
In a recent speech addressing the Women Republicans of Central Kentucky, Paul espoused that there was a need to audit the Department of Defense — a move that could lead to cuts and result in the closing of U.S. military bases around the world. While both of these would seem to be fairly basic libertarian ideas, he also stated that there should be some bases kept open in order to support a strong national security policy, saying, “I’m not saying we don’t have any [foreign bases] … I’m just saying maybe not 900.”
He then added that there was a more pressing need to invest resources being used in foreign aid and military occupation in homeland infrastructure and defense.
While he still supports a large reduction in the number of bases abroad, Paul’s message is a softer tone than that of traditional libertarian candidates, such as his father Ron, who said in an Fox News interview dating back to June of 2011 that he supported closing all U.S. foreign military bases. Rand on the other hand seems to have adopted the idea that U.S. foreign military presence should be something between what it is now and his father’s plan of total non-engagement.
Despite Paul’s recent surge in popularity, he still is considered to be a less viable candidate than favorites such as Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) or former Governor Jeb Bush (R-Fla.), who have a stronger base of support amongst traditional Republicans. In a recent article, Nate Silver estimated that while Paul would be able to solidly win the libertarian conservatives, he would have a harder time with moderates, religious conservatives, and so called “establishment” Republicans.
However, Paul has expressed a willingness to engage in what Silver refers to as the “invisible primary” process of culling support early at various speaking engagements — actions normally atypical of “insurgent” candidates of the past, and his softening on hardline libertarian issues such as foreign military involvement possibly expresses a desire to appeal to a broader Republican base in anticipation of 2016. While Paul is a long shot at this point, moving toward the center has helped many such candidates achieve prominence in the past. Just ask Barack Obama.