Tim Stanley outlines the problem with Rand Paul’s ongoing efforts to distinguish himself from his father:
However, the strategy carries risks. The biggest is that he might alienate the very Paulite movement that made the Paul Family Brand what it is today….They’re stubborn, angry individualists who are suckers for ideological purity. Ron Paul’s charisma was rooted in his lack of charisma: he appealed to those who favour ideas over personality. The cult of philosophy is so powerful within Paulism that if Rand moves too far too fast towards the centre, he could lose financial and political backing. And unless he enters the 2016 cycle with that Paulite base on his side … what has he got?
Many Ron Paul supporters won’t object too strongly to relatively minor shifts on Sen. Paul’s part, but there are bound to be limits to how far he can move away from the foreign policy views that drew a lot of them to support his father in the first place. Stanley says that “he’s building up to a significant speech outlining an approach to foreign policy that distances himself from Ron Paul’s legacy.” To some extent, that already happened during his election campaign and over the last two years, but this suggests that he will be putting even more distance between himself and his father’s views. We’ll have to wait for the speech to see just how much, but there have lately been some unfortunate hints of what we can expect.
If his recent vote on “enhancing” Iran sanctions is any indication, this distancing appears to involve endorsing some of the worst elements of the bipartisan consensus on foreign policy. I don’t expect Sen. Paul to be a lone nay vote on most bills, but I generally do expect him to vote against tightening sanctions on other countries. As James Bovard pointed out in his recent TAC review of Sen. Paul’s book, he has also inexplicably praised the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute. Backing useless sanctions and cheering on democracy promotion are hardly encouraging signs. Any one of these by itself may not be enough to drive away his most likely supporters. However, if these are signs of what can be expected in the future, eventually it will become a deal-breaker for a large number of them. Sen. Paul already unavoidably lost some of his father’s supporters because of his Romney endorsement, but many of those that continued to give him the benefit of the doubt until now will lose patience with him more quickly if he morphs into a more conventional Republican on foreign policy.
As for the Israel visit, Paul may be hoping that he will minimize criticism of his position on aid to Israel by going there. That’s possible, but it is just as likely that the criticism will increase because he has made a point of drawing attention to it. As long as he opposes the hawks in the party on any one thing, whether it is on foreign aid or military spending or something else, they will continue to distrust him. Meanwhile, a sustained effort to placate the party’s hawks will convince a lot of his potential supporters to stay home.