For a few weeks before the midterm elections, Sen. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican expected to contend for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, seemed to have made the decision to move toward the center, at least with regard to his public statements about both policy and politics.
In remarks to the Center for the National Interest in New York City on October 24, Paul appeared to distance himself from the neo-isolationist views of his father, former Rep. Ron Paul. Liberally quoting Ronald Reagan on the issue of muscular foreign policy, Rand Paul assured the Republican establishment that he was not against using the U.S. military to intervene in conflicts overseas.
Making the rounds of the Sunday shows just two days before the election, Paul was the seeker of consensus. Citing the support in both parties for infrastructure spending, he said he urged his fellow lawmakers to come together on the issue. “Let’s rebuild America,” he said. “Let’s do some nation building of America first. I think we can pass that. There’s bipartisan support.”
Then there was his dogged support of Washington’s foremost exemplar of the Republican establishment, Sen. Mitch McConnell, his fellow Kentuckian, for whom he campaigned tirelessly and whose candidacy for Senate Majority Leader he promised to support.
This was not the Rand Paul who closed down the Senate with a nearly 13-hour filibuster of John O. Brennan’s nomination to run the CIA in 2013, or the Rand Paul who voted to shut down the federal government in the fall of 2013. Heck, it wasn’t even the Rand Paul of June 2014, who urged the party to be more aggressively conservative.
For a while, it looked as though Paul was trying to moderate his image in advance of his effort to win the GOP presidential nomination. Then came election night.
As the returns filtered in, Paul began gleefully trolling Hillary Clinton, the Democrats’ likely 2016 nominee, on Twitter and Facebook, flagging pictures of Clinton campaigning with losing Democratic candidates with the hashtag #HillarysLosers.
In an interview with Politico published on Sunday, Paul, 51, took his efforts to undermine Clinton a step farther, subtly suggesting that she may be too old to handle the strain of campaigning for president, though he never actually used the word “old.” (Hillary Clinton is 67.)
“I think all the polls show if she does run, she’ll win the Democrat nomination,” said Paul. “But I don’t think it’s for certain. It’s a very taxing undertaking to go through. It’s a rigorous physical ordeal, I think, to be able to campaign for the presidency.”
The Politico article, incidentally, also revealed that the as-yet unofficial Paul campaign will be headquartered in Louisville and that key advisors met in Washington the day after the election.
Clinton has not been Paul’s only target in the week since the election.
In remarks at McConnell’s victory celebration, Paul promised an unrelenting assault on President Obama by a Republican-controlled Congress. Lawmakers would send bill after bill to the White House challenging the administration’s accomplishments “until he wearies of it.”
On Monday, the day after his interview with Politico was published, Paul issued a 1,200-word broadside against the Obama administration in The Daily Beast. Under the headline “Obama’s ISIS War Is Illegal,” Paul blasted the president and both parties in Congress over their role in the ongoing attacks on the terror group ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
The president, he argued, “is acting like a king” by failing to secure congressional authorization for the deployment of troops to Iraq – a deployment he said is a violation of the War Powers Act.
But he spared some criticism for his fellow conservatives as well.
“Conservatives have rightly decried President Obama’s unconstitutional executive action on Obamacare—and his promises to do the same with immigration,” he wrote. “With both branches of Congress now under Republican control, we should act to halt those power grabs, too.
“But conservatives can’t simply be angry at the president’s lawlessness when they disagree with his policies. They should end their conspicuous silence about the president’s usurpation of Congress’ sole authority to declare war—even if (especially if) they support going after ISIS, as I do.”
Why Paul stashed his combativeness away for a few weeks prior to November 4 is anybody’s guess. Maybe party leaders asked him to dial it back in advance of the election so as not to spook Democrats into higher turnout. Maybe he was experimenting with a new look that, in the end, he decided didn’t really suit him.
Assuming the change in tone was conscious and that the reversion to form after the election was, too, it does suggest one thing about Paul that should inform people looking at him as a potential 2016 candidate: He is capable of a degree of message discipline that not all of his colleagues in the GOP have demonstrated over the past few years, many of them to their regret.
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