The real Rand Paul stands up

As John notes below, Rand Paul has used his Senatorial prerogative to block the Patriot Act. As a result, its provisions will expire at midnight. A new Act will be passed, but probably not for at least 72 hours.

Let’s hope that terrorists worldwide respect Sen. Paul’s prerogative and wait 72 hours before using using U.S. phone lines to plot attacks on U.S. interests.

Rand Paul is concerned, as he told Megyn Kelly, that the NSA, by connecting dots contained in the metadata it collects, can

determine your religion 85 percent of the time, who your physician is most of the time, what medicines you have. They can even tell when you go to the doctor, by interference, maybe what kind of procedures you’re having at your doctor’s office.

And why wouldn’t the NSA match our identities to phone numbers and then determine our religion, our doctors, our meds, and our medical procedures? It has nothing better to do. (This explains the rash of cases in which the government has tried to blackmail Quakers and Viagra users.)

By undertaking this latest crusade, Paul will likely lock down the support of the significant minority of Republicans who are highly fearful of NSA “domestic spying.” With the Republican presidential field as crowded as it is, becoming the undisputed favorite of this cohort matters.

However, I don’t agree with those who say Paul’s crusade is motivated mainly by presidential politics. The Kentucky Senator has an opportunist streak, but I doubt this is a manifestation of it.

Instead, I believe we’re seeing the real Rand Paul in this debate. His opportunism consists not in blocking the Patriot Act, but in the scaling back of his foreign policy isolationism and blame America firstism that he undertook a few years ago as he attempted to go more mainstream (the old Rand Paul may be reemerging, though; he recently blamed Republicans for the rise of ISIS).

As I see it, Paul will push “out there” positions he believes in if they have the support of a decent-size chunk of GOP voters. But unlike his father, he will back away from “out there” positions he believes in if they lack such support. (I should add that an “out there” position isn’t always an incorrect position.)

Paul may have concluded that, with the rise of ISIS and the end of the mainstream GOP’s flirtation with pulling back globally, he has no path to the GOP nomination. If so, his best option is to nail down his base and ride it deep into the primary season. The worst case scenario for Paul, I assume, is to fade into the background.

But again, I think his crusade against the Patriot Act is ideologically, not politically, motivated.