Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Out of America: The junior senator for Kentucky is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy

Share

An amazing thing may be happening in Republican politics. Usually the economy and social issues decide who gets the party's presidential nomination (plus the GOP's ingrained habit of giving the prize to the senior man in line: most recently John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney the last time around). Not this time, however. The key issue may well be foreign policy – and the beneficiary could be someone who's anything but the obvious man in line.

I refer to Rand Paul, by training an ophthalmologist, by trade the junior senator for Kentucky, and by instinct a gadfly and provocateur who has laid bare the foreign policy rift in Republicans that has festered unresolved since George W Bush's disastrous adventure in Iraq.

The potential Republican field for 2016 is the most intriguing and open in years. There's New Jersey's governor Chris Christie, once everyone's favourite until the great bridge traffic jam scandal exposed him as politics' equivalent of Tony Soprano. There's Marco Rubio, Florida's young and gifted junior senator, and Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney's running mate from 2012. Rick Perry, the outgoing Texas governor who made a fool of himself four years ago, is on the comeback trail, minus his trademark cowboy boots but sporting black-rimmed spectacles aimed at giving him the gravitas he then so visibly lacked.

Stir in Mike Huckabee who ran McCain close in 2008, and several talented state governors who could throw their hats into the ring, and there's a terrific race in the making. And that's without Jeb Bush, W's younger brother, ever Hamlet-like but a heavyweight by any standards. None has yet formally declared (bad form before November's mid-terms are out of the way, and the 2016 contest begins in earnest).

Many of them, however, are already trawling Iowa and New Hampshire, the first states up in the primary season. "I will be back a lot," Christie ominously declared during a visit to Iowa last week. But if there is a front runner at this absurdly early stage of proceedings, it's probably Rand Paul.

It's not so much that he holds wafer-thin leads in both states, according to recent, near-meaningless polls. Nor that he's the son of Ron Paul, who made quixotic bids for the White House in both 2008 and 2012, acquiring along the way a modest but ferociously dedicated following. Nor even that he's a born opportunist, supremely quick to spot and exploit an opening. The simple fact is that Paul Jnr has an appeal that extends into odd corners of his own party, and beyond.

Up to a point, he's a conventional low-tax, small-government Republican, much loved by the Tea Party. He's for guns and against gay marriage. What sets him apart, though, is the libertarianism he inherited from his father. Paul is pro-privacy and a sworn foe of the blanket NSA snooping revealed by Edward Snowden. He opposed renewal of the post 9/11 Patriot Act – an article of faith for most Republicans – on the grounds that it infringed individual liberties. He even did a real, 12-hour filibuster on the Senate floor in protest against the use of drones. And not least, he has a libertarian's distaste for foreign entanglements.

All of this allows him to venture into places where most Republicans don't. In March, he got a standing ovation after a speech to students at the liberal redoubt of UC-Berkeley. Now he's reportedly making tracks back to California to tap the tech moguls of Democrat-leaning Silicon Valley for money, and enlist young digital whizzes to help to hone a 2016 campaign.

Above all, though, the Paul siren song extends to foreign policy, on which his party is deeply divided. The differences in part reflect the eternal American clash between isolationism and interventionism, the former personified in GOP presidential races as recent as 1992 and 1996 by the old bruiser Pat Buchanan.

In fact, Paul is not a true isolationist, of the "stop the world, I want to get off" variety. He admits that America's armed forces have a role abroad, a role that includes permanent foreign military bases. But he's profoundly sceptical of the use of military force and of the US ability, trumpeted by Bush and the neocons, to create a democratic garden in the stony deserts of sectarianism and authoritarianism.

Right now, such views strike a deep domestic chord. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the longest in American history, produced much misery and little tangible gain, either for the US or the two countries themselves. And now, wherever they look, Americans see only trouble: in Iraq and Afghanistan, both falling prey again to the radical Islam against which the US took up arms; in Syria and maybe soon in relations with Iran, as prospects of a genuine nuclear deal recede; and, of course, Ukraine and Gaza.

Nowhere does the US appear able to shape events. Obama's foreign policy approval ratings are accordingly terrible, but not because the President isn't doing what American voters want. His problem is that while the last thing they want is a new war, they simultaneously demand that the US appears strong. And right now, almost everyone would admit, it doesn't.

Paul is not even a formal candidate let alone a president, and doesn't have Obama's problem. Instead, he can carry the foreign policy battle to his rivals, pushing Republicans towards a reckoning on the Iraq disaster, whose legacy diminishes the party's credibility on national security. That was why he lashed out last week at Perry, who had accused Paul of ignorant isolationism. "Apparently his new glasses haven't allowed him to see the world any more clearly," the latter shot back.

And now his views have drawn the opposition of the prince of the dark side himself, Dick Cheney. Paul was "basically an isolationist", Bush's former vice-president and architect of the Iraq war told ABC TV the other day. To which Paul responds, will the warmongers ever learn? And, he must be privately chortling, with enemies like that, who needs friends?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Among the ‘extreme’ ideas favoured by Neil Findlay is the re-nationalisation of Scottish railways  

Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

DJ Taylor
Bill Cosby dismisses the allegations that have demolished his lovable TV persona as ‘innuendos’  

Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

Rupert Cornwell
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin