Exactly How Unconventional Will Rand Paul’s Campaign Be?

We’ll be hearing a lot the rest of this week about Rand Paul describing his presidential candidacy as amazingly unconventional, very hip, and many gulps of fresh air. But I have to tell you, I’m not feeling it. Check out this sympathetic effort by Ben Domenech of The Federalist to tease out something interesting in an on-the-brink-of-candidacy interview with ol’ Aqua Buddha:

Senator Rand Paul is expected to announce his presidential run on Tuesday, and last night his supporters posted a new video teasing his arrival on the 2016 scene. Promising a “different kind of Republican leader,” included in the video is his apparent campaign slogan: “On April 7, one leader will stand up to defeat the Washington machine and unleash the American dream.” We spoke to him in advance of the announcement about his views on a number of topics.

You’ve talked about your unique view of judicial activism recently. Should the federal government and the courts have a role in fighting against state/local government policies, like professional licensing, that harm entrepreneurship and economic mobility, particularly among the poor?

I believe we should leave more power in the hands of the states and local governments. More often than not, the longer a federal judge or elected official is in office, the more out of touch they become. That is why I am a big proponent of term limits for elected officials and federal judges. Like with politicians, as each term passes, judges appear to grow more and more distant from the American people. We are seeing far too many judges make subjective or biased rulings, as opposed to constitutional ones. I believe it is time for us to term-limit out-of-control, unelected federal judges.

Even if you don’t believe in federal preemption on “liberty” grounds, couldn’t Paul put it in a less yawn-inducing way? He could at least say: “It’s tempting to fight government tyranny with tyranny from a higher level of government, and sometimes–say, the pre-Civil War crisis over slavery and secession–it’s necessary. But we should always remember a government powerful enough to blah blah blah is a government powerful enough to blah!” This should be very basic stuff for a guy like Paul.

Given the rise of ISIS and public support for using ground troops to destroy them, do you think a foreign policy based on economic strength and engagement and limited intervention abroad remains viable?

I believe in Ronald Reagan’s “Peace through Strength.” I believe that we should only intervene when the security of our nation is directly threatened. I support military action against ISIS, but if we are to put our brave young men and women in harm’s way, there must be a vote by Congress and a formal declaration of war. If we are to go to war, we should make it brief, succinct and we must fight to win.

Yes, the demand for a declaration of war before, well, war is waged is unconventional, though it’s not entirely clear that, say, in 2002, the Congress that voted through the Iraq War AUMF would not have declared war if told they needed to. But the rest of Paul’s remarks are banal. Does anyone advocating military action say that favor it if it’s lengthy, mission-creepy, and fought to neutralize rather than defeat an enemy? Of course not. And in Republican politics, there’s nothing more conventional than quoting Ronald Reagan or calling for “Peace Through Strength.”

Frankly, there’s nothing more conventional or trust-undermining than “evolving” one’s views to match that of your party’s “base.” Sure looks to me like that’s what Paul–not without political justification–is doing. At Bloomberg Politics today, Dave Weigel looks at what Paul finally said–after days of refusals to comment–about the Iran “framework understanding” on Iran’s nuclear program that was announced last week:

“We don’t know the details of the deal yet,” said Doug Stafford, a spokesman for Paul’s PAC. “Senator Paul will be watching closely and believes any deal must make clear Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon, allows for full verification and is approved by Congress. He voted for sanctions both times they were put before Congress and believes only Congress should remove those sanctions.”

I’d say the Obama administration would have exactly the same stipulations on a final deal, with the exception of the need for congressional approval, which is a dispute that is entirely independent of the negotiations in question. So is Paul’s response unconventional response, or just weaselly?

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.