But to be fair to Rand Paul, there’s a lot of distance between Rand Paul’s agenda, which isn’t exactly mine, and the caricature of nativism or isolationism. ~Bill Kristol

What Kristol failed to say here is that the “caricature of nativism and isolationism” is a caricature drawn by people like Bill Kristol. The reality is that there isn’t that much distance between Rand Paul’s agenda and the agenda of people who have been routinely denounced as nativists and isolationists by mainstream conservatives for decades. That doesn’t mean that Rand Paul is actually close to “nativism” or “isolationism,” but rather that many of the people who admire and support him don’t subscribe to these things, either. These have been misrepresentations circulated by pro-immigration and hawkish foreign policy conservatives for a very long time. Properly speaking, isolationism does not exist and has never existed, and it is a pejorative label applied indiscriminately to almost anyone who prefers not entering into unnecessary foreign wars. Support for immigration restrictions is not in itself nativist, though it has regularly been treated that way by Republican administrations and party leadership. Bush spent an inordinate amount of time denouncing these basically non-existent tendencies in American politics as a way of deflecting attention from his own extraordinary policy failures and blunders.

The time was when someone espousing Rand Paul’s views would be pilloried and attacked by mainstream conservatives with even greater intensity after a strong electoral showing. The difference in treatment this time has to do with the fact that Paul will be just one Senator among forty-odd Republicans, and so his primary win doesn’t frighten his critics nearly as much as it would if he were to mount a credible presidential bid. It could also be that there is a growing recognition on the part of people who tried to defeat Paul that he represents a sizeable part of the GOP in many ways and that they don’t want to be on the wrong side of this constituency.