Where Did Rand Paul Go?

Rand Paul seems to have been shuffled off into the presidential candidate equivalent of the witness protection program. For a while several months back it appeared he’d be a serious contender, with strong appeal potentially beyond his father’s hard-core libertarian base. Surprisingly, though, he hasn’t raised a lot of money, despite presumably having his dad’s direct mail list.

The mainstream media have taken notice of this. “Where Is Rand Paul?”, asks CNN yesterday. “Rand Paul Looks to Revive Stagnant Campaign,” reports USA Today. “Rand Paul’s Struggling Presidential Campaign,” runs The Atlantic’s headline.

My theory is simple: he’s the candidate Donald Trump has hurt most—more than Ted Cruz—not because Trump and Paul are in alignment on particular issues (they aren’t), but because Trump is attracting many of the same kind of populist, independent, and disaffected GOP voters that Paul attracted.

But in addition to this epicycle, Rand Paul’s own issue map has become fuzzy. Buzzfeed reported yesterday:

Republican presidential candidate and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul says he supports military action against Iran to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon, even though he says it would only delay Iran getting a bomb.

“I think military force always has to back up diplomacy,” Paul told radio host Mark Levin on Tuesday. “Diplomacy doesn’t work without military force behind it, and I think making that decision is a difficult decision, but ultimately yes you have to have military force that backs up the diplomatic negotiations that you have. We have to say that there has to be force as a backdrop to this.”

This has naturally set off many of Paul’s libertarian supporters who assumed, with good evidence, that Rand Paul was in close harmony with his father’s neo-isolationism and non-interventionism. (See, for example, Daniel Larison in the Buchananite American Conservative.) But it appears he’s also trying to have it both ways—appealing to the GOP national security mainstream while displaying a residue of dislike for military intervention, as exemplified in this incoherent sequel in the article:

Paul told Levin he believed any decision made on Iran has to have “the best outcome” in mind. Paul said he thought an attack on Iran might delay them developing a nuclear weapon, but would actually allow them to develop a bomb faster in the long run.

“The decision has to be made, which is the best way to try have, you know, an outcome that is the best outcome. And I think the best outcome — if you were looking at the best outcome from there — if we were to use military force I think we delay a nuclear weaponization but I think ultimately what you end up having is you have situation where there are no more inspections and there may well be a quicker development of a nuclear weapon after that,” Paul stated.

Of course, it should be mentioned that the rise of ISIS dealt a blow to popular support for Paul’s anti-interventionism. A few beheadings of Americans will tend to do that.