For several years Rand Paul, the junior senator from Kentucky and the son of presidential candidate Ron Paul, has been one of the most interesting politicians in his party and in congress as a whole. At a time when new ideas have become increasingly scarce, and the policy bandwidth increasingly narrow in Washington, Mr. Paul, whether speaking about US intervention and foreign policy or more recently about militarization and the police, has been one of the few politicians with views outside of his party’s mainstream. With the 2016 presidential election approaching, this has made Mr. Paul one of the most intriguing presidential candidates. But what’s made him special may also may be changing.
As the 2016 election draws nearer, Mr. Paul, according to Politico has bolstered his circle of advisors with a mix of conservative insiders like anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, former Bush administration official and previous president of the International Republican Institute (IRI) Lorne Craner and James Jay Carafano of the Heritage Foundation, as well as with a number of organizations that are not usually found advising Republican presidential hopefuls, including the ACLU and Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an organization working to reform prison sentencing.
Last week Mr. Paul, who since being elected to the senate in 2010 has been one of the most influential voices against a broadly interventionist foreign policy, called for a very strong military response to ISIS. This view places Paul firmly in the mainstream of his party and of most of the American foreign policy establishment. ISIS is also a sufficiently significant threat that Mr. Paul’s statement is not inconsistent with his general view that intervention should only occur when U.S. national security is threatened.
Based on his advisors and his recent public statements on issues as diverse as ISIS and Ferguson it is apparent that Mr. Paul is being pulled between his purer Libertarian principles and the demands of Republican primary voters and conservative donors. During the next few months Mr. Paul will need to resolve this tension. He can either remaining a Libertarian and continue to take positions on issues from prison sentencing to the NSA that differ from his party’s establishment. Or he can sidle closer to that establishment in a way his father never did, by becoming another voice for an interventionist foreign policy and conservative social policies. In a political environment with no shortage of conventional and timid politicians, it would certainly make for a more compelling campaign if he chose the former.
Lincoln Mitchell is the national political correspondent for the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LincolnMitchell.