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Rand Paul’s Incoherent Foreign Policy Mess

His worldview can't sell in a GOP primary and he knows it -- so here's the hacky sweet spot he's going for instead.

One of the articles of faith among both the libertarian true believers and the mainstream media is the idea that Sen. Rand Paul is a man who does not play the usual partisan political game. The true believers think this comes from a deep well of integrity and intellectual consistency. The mainstream media mostly sees him as a “wacko-bird” to use their favorite maverick John McCain’s term. In neither case does it occur to them that Rand Paul is quite serious about becoming president.

Foreign policy is a defining issue for the Republican Party. And although many in the Beltway seem to believe that the ghost of Robert Taft still haunts the halls of Congress, the fact is that GOP isolationism is about as common today as Democratic members of the KKK. Let’s just say it’s not unprecedented, but we haven’t seen it for quite a long time. Now it’s true that there’s a libertarian streak that runs through the Republican faithful but the tie that binds them is around Big Government, regulation and low taxes. Whatever libertarian isolationists exist are only on the very fringe — the young white geek contingent. Republicans on the whole are flag-waving, military worshiping, “American Exceptionalism — Hell Yeah!” types.  The idea of the United States no longer being the world’s greatest military empire is unthinkable.

And that puts Rand Paul in a tough position. If he’s serious about running for president and not just doing it to make a point as his father did, he has a problem. He can certainly compete on race. He’s proven his bona fides to the party on that numerous times and is now so secure that he feels he can tack back to the compassionate conservative message. (If your famous father published white supremacy pamphlets under his name and you employed a known racist called the Southern Avenger for years, your dog-whistle is your résumé.) And no conservative would question his commitment to destroying all government programs (that benefit people other than them), cutting taxes on billionaires or ensuring that if the air we breathe doesn’t kill us our lack of decent healthcare will. He is as committed to that worldview as any Republican out there.

But on foreign policy he has a big challenge. He must keep the libertarian base that will provide his greatest financial support. And they are also likely to be the ones who show up in the early primary and caucus states. He needs them to be his foot soldiers. But he will never get enough Republicans to vote for someone they see as a dove. If he were just running for president to advance his libertarian agenda perhaps that would be ok. That’s what his father did. But he’s made a few moves recently that indicate he’s going for the brass ring.

Jamie Kirchik at the Daily Beast points out that he’s hired Lorne Craner, a former John McCain staffer and Bush official, which evidently has the Republican establishment all discombobulated:

“Very odd,” is how one board member of the International Republican Institute, which Craner headed until last year, describes the move. IRI is the Republican offshoot of the National Endowment for Democracy, founded by Congress over 30 years ago to promote democracy and good governance overseas. It has long been a target of ire for the isolationist wing of the GOP – like Rand Paul’s father, former congressman and perennial presidential candidate, Ron — which sees it as a meddlesome, money-wasting plaything of the party’s foreign policy hawks. McCain has been IRI’s chairman for over 20 years.

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