Jason Zengerle’s latest GQ piece trying to reduce Rand Paul to a fringe figure has elicited an unlikely reaction: concern — especially pronounced among antiwar conservatives — that Paul is too much of a mainstream Republican. That’s because the New Republic reporter who revealed Paul to be a “paleo wacko” met in Washington, D.C. with such leading neocons and hawks as Bill Kristol, Dan Senor, and Tom Donnelly.
The fact is that whether we agree with their foreign policy views or not, all of the above gentlemen are influential in the Republican Party and broader conservative movement. People in their orbit will advise the next Republican president and will staff Senate offices. Conservatives who do not like this reality need to get right-wingers of a less interventionist stripe into the talent pool from which future conservative elected officials will draw. Rand Paul’s campaign represents a significant opportunity to do that. Even if he is imperfect himself, his openness to different influences and potential willingness to hire serious libertarians or noninterventionist conservatives would still be an asset.
That’s not to deny that there are reasons to worry about Rand going native — Zengerele does a good job showing the tension between Paul’s ideology and his ambition. In fact, some of this criticism is beneficial because Paul the younger needs pressure from harder-core libertarians and noninterventionists to balance the overwhelming pressure he’s going to face from the other side. But let’s take a deep breath here.
Rand Paul remains opposed to the Iraq war. He left National Review with the clear impression that he wants out of Afghanistan. He has been restrained in his rhetoric about Iran even when invited to make bellicose statements. He still talks about closing military bases, Congress’ constitutional authority to declare war, and not exempting the Pentagon from spending cuts. And that’s without mentioning his domestic positions, which make him likely to be the most limited-government member of the Senate. Even Ron Paul has trimmed a bit in his successful campaigns for conventional Republican votes.
Given these facts and the paucity of other viable options, I’m inclined to let this play out rather than jump to conclusions based on Rand Paul’s attempts to mend fences with conservatives and Republicans outside the Ron Paul movement. Robert Taft didn’t need to be the most consistent noninterventionist conservative to be the most influential.