As Jim Antle points out, Rand Paul’s vote against cloture for the Hagel nomination has been roundly criticized by antiwar conservatives, libertarians, and liberal admirers of Ron Paul—not only by Scott McConnell and Daniel Larison here at TAC but also by Justin Raimondo (a longtime Rand critic) and Glenn Greewald (who had been more favorable). The criticisms are entirely justified, but Rand’s vote shouldn’t come as a surprise, and there are a few things that we should all understand going forward.
Since he first won the Kentucky GOP Senate nomination in 2010, Rand Paul has set out to become the Republican’s Republican—not in the sense of being the most loyal party trooper, but in the sense of being its most ideologically committed leader. So when other Republicans propose cutting government, Rand urges deeper cuts. When Marco Rubio gives the party’s official State of the Union rebuttal, Rand gives the Tea Party response. The brand he cultivates is that of the antithesis of the RINO Republican. He takes the party’s core rhetorical concerns—taxes, states’ rights, smaller government—and pushes them farther. Quite probably that reflects what he really believes; it also aligns him with the party’s activist base ahead of the 2016 presidential contest. When he goes up against Rubio, his argument will be, “I’m more Republican than he is.”
But if that were all Senator Paul wanted to do, he would not make a speech at the Heritage Foundation citing George Kennan and calling himself a realist. Talk is cheap—but these weren’t words that fit with his attempt to be the Republican’s Republican. Nor have some of his efforts on civil libertarian issues and the drug war in particular been what you would expect from someone who just wants to be as acceptable as possible to the activist GOP base. One should not make too much of this—but one should not dismiss it, either.