When Washingtonians refer to Rand Paul as a different breed of politician than his father, they generally mean it in a good way. The implication is that he is more pragmatic and tactical (probably more tactful, too); that his worldview has broader appeal. Whereas Ron Paul is way too much of a crank to ever have a shot of winning the GOP presidential nomination, Rand increasingly looks like a contender.
But whatever you might think about the elder Paul, you can say this for him: He is not cynical. He is a conviction politician, however repugnant some of us may find his convictions. The younger Paul? Well, he certainly styles himself a man of conviction. But at this point in his presidential quest, it’s getting hard to say for sure.
Take this story on Rand Paul’s “evolving” foreign policy views in Saturday’s New York Times. The premise of the piece is that Paul is being somewhat unfairly attacked by the hawkish wing of his party, whose members often fail to see the distinction between his father’s isolationism and his more nuanced brand of non-interventionism. As evidence, the piece adduces this rather eye-catching data point:
Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America and a close associate of [GOP mega-donor Sheldon] Adelson’s, said that when he pressed Mr. Paul to explain his position on aid to Israel in a recent meeting in the senator’s Washington office, Mr. Klein left reassured. “He said if there was a vote and for any reason it seemed like it was actually going to be close, he would vote for it,” Mr. Klein said.
So, if Klein’s account is correct (and the Times presumably ran it by Senator Paul), what we have is as follows: Paul’s public position is that we should cut off all foreign aid, including aid to Israel, which he dubbed “welfare” back in 2011. But if Paul were ever in a position to end aid to Israel—which is to say, the only time his personal position would really matter—he would abandon that position, and instead vote to ensure that the aid continues.
I’m not sure I can think of a more irresponsible position. If Rand Paul thinks aid to Israel is truly important, then it’s deeply cynical to badmouth that aid simply because bad-mouthing appeals to the type of voter he’s courting. And if he thinks aid to Israel is irredeemably wasteful, then it’s deeply cynical to fink out when given the opportunity to roll it back. Either way, it’s hard to spot the conviction here.
In fairness, Paul did try to resolve this tension at another event, telling the board of the Republican Jewish Coalition that, in the Times’ paraphrasing, “while he would eventually like to terminate all foreign aid, he knew that would not be realistic now.” The most charitable interpretation of this riff is that Paul would like to cut off aid as soon as possible, but realizes you can’t do it abruptly without triggering major blowback among U.S. allies that would damage our standing around the world. That would indeed speak to his pragmatism.
But this interpretation seems like a stretch given that Paul’s comments appear to have been a lot less coherent than that, or at least less specific. “You could see he was a work in progress,” former George W. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer, who attended the meeting, told the Times. Instead, it’s hard to avoid the impression that Paul is simply trying to reassure neoconservatives that he’ll be with them on the issue they care about most, but without junking a big source of his political appeal. That’s not an “evolution.” It’s hypocrisy.