The Pushback Against Rand Paul

Mar 12 2014 @ 11:57am

Annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Held In D.C.

As you could see yesterday in one of Joe McGinniss’s emails to yours truly, my fondness for the Pauls has never been a crowd favorite at the Dish. So my recent hope that he might tilt the GOP back toward a more Millennial worldview has inevitably taken a few hits. P.M. Carpenter’s hit the mark a little too well:

There is absolutely no way Rand Paul can win the White House. There is no “if” here.

What’s more, after Paul’s humiliating defeat, the GOP would conclude that running on Paulite measures in relation to foreign policy and national security was, is, and always will be a colossal loser for the party. The GOP would turn even more heavily to neocon thinking. Paulism would backfire on the very ideas he wishes to advance.

Andrew, your dream is already dead. Look, I’m no happier about a Hillary run than Joe Biden is. But I can read an electoral map–and I can read reality. Paul is pre-toast.

The most delicious way to prepare bread! I sure can’t seriously deny this high probability. I’m not sure, however, that non-interventionism would necessarily take the biggest hit in the inevitable recriminations. With Paul, any number of positions could make his defeat to Clinton epic – and his economic policy is far less popular than his foreign policy. And, besides, non-interventionism is very popular in America right now, whatever Marco Rubio and Bill Kristol – and all those who have wiped their minds clean of any memory of Iraq – want to believe. From the latest WSJ poll today:

One area of agreement among respondents of either party was on whether the U.S. should reassert itself on the world stage. Adults surveyed were less likely to support a candidate who wants to see the U.S. assume an expanded role in policing foreign conflicts and more likely to support one who doesn’t. Republicans, Democrats and independents showed more agreement on those questions than many others.

Republicans and Democrats also tended to agree that the U.S. should only involve itself in the brewing conflict between Russia and Ukraine if other nations take part, or that it should let Europeans handle the matter on their own. A mere 5% said the U.S. should take action by itself.

The scenario I’m positing is one in which Paul is actually more in line with American thinking on foreign policy than Hillary Clinton in 2016. The public’s response to both Ukraine and Syria – two major mehs – has already made this loud and clear, even though the boomer armchair generals in the punditariat have not yet noticed. And with a victory in the primaries, Paul would offer the US a real choice between the continuation of a policy of US hegemony or a gradual shift to a more prudent use of our resources. In that context, I wouldn’t under-estimate the potential power of a real change you can believe in.

But, of course, you then have to deal with Rand Paul’s actual stances. And his attempt both to neutralize GOP opposition to his non-interventionism has led him into some serious weirdness. Serious enough to be thoroughly Chaited:

Paul [argues], “America is a world leader, but we should not be its policemen or ATM.” So he’s saying the United States should lead the world, but this leadership should not entail any new financial or military commitment? Actually, he’s going farther than that. He’s arguing that American leadership should involve less financial and military commitment. Paul’s plan entails stiffing the Ukrainians:

We should also suspend American loans and aid to Ukraine because currently these could have the counterproductive effect of rewarding Russia.

Yes, you read that right – in the face of a massive threat from Russia, the United States should impose financial penalties on Ukraine.

Patrick Brennan calls the plan “bizarre and delusional”:

This is how Paul wants to support an incredibly fragile pro-Western government running out of foreign currency and therefore teetering on the brink of default. Ukraine desperately needs to raise more debt to make loan payments, which was the whole reason it had to pick between Russia and the West in the first place. Suggesting that the West shouldn’t loan to Ukraine now because some of that will go out the door to Russia is literally suggesting that the government default on its external debts. If that happens and the West isn’t there to help because President Paul thinks we can’t afford it, there basically won’t be a Ukrainian government left to regret choosing our side.

Larison focuses on Paul’s call for isolating Russia economically:

Sen. Paul makes several proposals in his article, most of which seem unworkable or irrelevant, but this is the one that has the least chance of succeeding on its own terms. Russia has the eighth-largest GDP in the world. Even if it were somehow politically possible to get all of its major trading partners to agree to “isolate” it, it would be economically ruinous for many of them to do so. No matter how assertive or bold the U.S. might be, there is no real chance that Russia will be isolated economically, and even less drastic punitive measures could have very undesirable effects.

The trouble with abstract libertarianism is it has never actually had to grasp the realities of governance since the Second World War. And Rand Paul’s contortions suggest a worldview much less coherent than you might imagine. And his skills at management and diplomacy? Unproven, at the very least.

(Photo: Getty Images)