This morning, Sen. Paul voted against cloture for the second time. This afternoon, he turned around and voted for the Hagel nomination. Obviously, that’s the outcome that I and a lot of other antiwar conservatives and libertarians were hoping for, but it makes the previous votes even harder to understand. If the first two can be explained as a matter of party discipline and affirming his identity as a “Republican’s Republican,” the last one certainly can’t be. Sen. Paul made the right decision on the most important vote, and he should get credit for it. He is certainly going to be in for an avalanche of abuse and attacks from the people who thought that he was going to vote their way.
This afternoon’s vote should help reduce the damage that Sen. Paul has done with potential supporters over the last two months. That said, I don’t think the initial negative reactions to his votes against cloture, including mine, were ill-considered or unreasonable. There was no good reason to join the filibuster earlier this month, and we weren’t wrong to say so. Sen. Paul was in a position almost two weeks ago to bring debate on the nomination to an end. He didn’t do that, and there was good reason to object. Voting against cloture this morning was even stranger when it was virtually guaranteed that the motion would pass. Whatever Sen. Paul was trying to do with these different votes, it resulted in avoidable confusion.
In the end, Paul ignored the hard-line ideological enforcers in his party that never wanted him in office in the first place, and he did so knowing that many of them will seek to do to him what they just tried to do to Hagel. As discouraging as some of Sen. Paul’s positions have been this year, today’s yes vote on Hagel was an admirable one. It was a vote that he took in the face of a relentless smear campaign aimed partly at policing Republican foreign policy debate and driving realists away from the party.