Since his election to the U.S. Senate in 2010, the ever-dwindling number of foreign policy realists within the ranks of the Republican party have nurtured unrealistically high hopes for Dr. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Because of his relative youth and his willingness to engage constituencies outside of the Republican mainstream, Paul had been thought to possess qualities that might propel him all the way to the Oval Office. Indeed, in October 2014 Time magazine put Paul the younger on its cover, proclaiming him to be “The Most Interesting Man in Politics.”
Paul has certainly talked a good game, speaking out against arming the largely mythical “moderate” Syrian opposition and arguing against NATO’s disastrous intervention in Libya. And yet with the exception of Paul’s valiant 2013 filibuster against President Obama’s nomination of John Brennan for CIA Director, he hasn’t lived up to expectations. Not by a long shot.
Troubling questions about his powers of discernment surfaced early on. In July, 2013 he was forced to part ways with his aide, a neo-confederate radio personality, Jack “the Southern Avenger” Hunter, who had boasted, among other things, that he raises a toast “every May 10 to celebrate John Wilkes Booth’s birthday.” Later that year, Paul and his staff were caught up in an embarrassing plagiarism scandal.
Yet these incidents seemed to trouble Paul’s supporters not a whit. Indeed, the small and increasingly marginalized realist wing of the GOP continued to proudly claim Paul as one of their own. Indeed, last October Paul was the headline speaker at the Center for the National Interest’s annual dinner where he sounded less like a realist in the Scowcroft mold and more like a dyed-in-the-wool interventionist. Here was Paul’s opening salvo:
Russia slides backward vainly hoping to resurrect the Soviet Union. Vladimir Putin justifies aggression in Ukraine as defense against decadent and hypocritical Western powers.
In East Asia, Beijing extols the remarkable rise of China as the supremacy of a one-party state capitalism. In the Middle East, secular dictatorships have been replaced by the rise of radical jihadist movements, who in their beliefs and barbarity — represent the antithesis of liberal democracy.
It was a speech that would have made both John McCain and Samantha Power proud.
And this brings us to Paul’s lackluster performance at Thursday night’s Republican debate in Cleveland. While Paul deserves credit for standing up to Donald Trump and Chris Christie, vainglorious blowhards both, his comments on the Iran deal should wake those remaining Republican realists up to the fact that Rand is not their man, and perhaps never really was.