Many in the TAC universe have been watching Senator Rand Paul, looking for signs he will emerge as a viable leader of a realist foreign policy tendency within the GOP, either as a senator or presidential candidate. While it is obvious that the GOP will not deserve to regain the White House unless it manages an auto-correction from the neoconservative Bush-Cheney agenda, it is far from clear that the realists will find the leaders to take the party out of the wilderness.
For me, the verdict on Paul was still open: some excessive pandering towards Israel on a recent trip there, combined with a studied obtuseness about the occupation. And yet, on the other hand, a speech where he at least raised the possibility that containment of adversaries like Iran was a far more viable strategy than bombing or “liberation.”
It could be argued that it made sense to play it both ways– a dialogue with Commentary that might be interpreted as a way of saying “I am not my father’s son, at all” and but was perhaps just a smooth politician’s way of minimizing potential roadblocks. Reading Daniel Larison regularly nudged me towards optimism.
But politics is not always about keeping options open; it is often about choice. In the next day or two, Rand will have a chance to vote for or against Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, and just as importantly will have opportunity to vote for or against the GOP filibuster to keep Hagel from coming to a floor vote. Yesterday Paul told CNN that he would back a filibuster of Hagel, relying on the most spurious of pretexts: the charge, raised by Ted Cruz, that Hagel is in the pay of foreign powers. In a few short months in office, Cruz has already established a reputation as one of the most McCarthyite members of the GOP, someone happy to use lies and innuendo to destroy opponents. In the generally decorous Senate, he has already been called out for being “over the line.” It may well prove to be Ron Paul’s single greatest lapse of judgment (and of course, there have been many) to have endorsed Cruz in the Texas Republican primary, and to have encouraged his backers to contribute to him.
But now Rand is doubling down in support of Cruz, in favor of a filibuster of Hagel on grounds that are both bogus and demagogic. (Hagel of course has answered the financial disclosure questions required for any nominee for Secretary of Defense, and in today’s Washington these are by no means perfunctory.)
So let’s be clear. If Rand Paul persists on going demagogic on Hagel, he will have established beyond any serious doubt that regardless of who his father is, he is Bill Kristol and Jennifer Rubin’s boy. It saddens me to conclude that because I like to be optimistic. But it’s a truth that must be faced.