Rand Paul’s Fall and Rise

Rand Paul’s campaign for the White House ended with a fifth-place finish in Iowa. But Senator Paul has a more important job than running for president, and the conclusion of his presidential bid lets him get back to it. He does, of course, represent the people of Kentucky in the United States Senate. But he represents something else as well: the best foreign-policy traditions of the Republican Party.

However ill-starred his presidential effort, he remains the country’s most widely recognized conservative realist. And before he or anyone like him can become president, Rand Paul will have to help his party reform.

That task will not be easy. But a look at the record shows that it is far from impossible—even as it also illustrates why 2016 was not to be Paul’s year.

Foreign-policy restraint has a deeper history in the Republican Party than its hawkish reputation would suggest. Not for nothing did Bob Dole, as the party’s nominee for vice president in 1976, remark: “If we added up the killed and wounded in Democrat wars in this century, it would be about 1.6 million Americans—enough to fill the city of Detroit.”

A veteran of World War II himself, Dole was hardly saying that America should not have fought any of those wars. But the collective toll, for the good as well as the bad, was staggering. All of them began under Democrats.

Republicans were not the war party; in fact, they were the party of grand diplomacy in the latter half of the 20th century. Richard Nixon not only opened the way for China’s integration into the world economy, he contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union by cracking apart the communist world. Ronald Reagan, caricatured as a warmonger by the left, ushered the Cold War toward a peaceful resolution by negotiating with Mikhail Gorbachev. Even George H.W. Bush, under whom our long wars in the Middle East began, deserves praise for supporting German reunification while urging caution over the USSR’s disintegration.

If Republicans don’t get much credit for having long been the less interventionist party in practice, it’s not hard to see why. Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan all cultivated images—more than an image, of course, in Ike’s case—as war-winners, not doves or doubters of American power. They presented themselves as practical patriots who had the answers for foreign-policy messes created by the Democrats. Yet neither party was quite what it seemed. The Democrats had more outwardly dovish popular elements, but they always had—and still have—a highly interventionist elite. The Republicans often employed hawkish rhetoric but had a relatively restrained elite. Until recently, that is—as recently as the last Republican president, George W. Bush.

This history put Rand Paul in a difficult position. As an acknowledged “conservative realist” who had spoken out against the Iraq War on the campaign trail and opposed interventions in Libya and Syria as a senator, Paul was more openly dovish than any recent Republican nominee—indeed, arguably more so than Eisenhower, Nixon, or Reagan had been. Add to that the inevitable association of Rand Paul with his father Ron Paul’s strict libertarian noninterventionism, and the Kentucky senator seemed an awkward fit for a party that has usually liked to talk tough, even as it formerly practiced sound diplomacy in office.

Full article: Rand Paul’s Fall and Rise | The American Conservative



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