Something else occurred to me as I was thinking about Rand Paul’s unfortunate statement on extending an unnecessary security guarantee to Israel last week. It’s true that a significant majority of Republicans agrees that the U.S. should use force if Israel is attacked by its neighbors (see Table 5.3 on p. 45), and Paul’s statement was an attempt to align himself with what a majority of Republicans favors. However, taking this position undermines his larger political and policy argument for Republican reform and reviving the party’s political fortunes.
The political argument is straightforward enough: Sen. Paul has stated many times that he believes the GOP is alienating many voters, especially younger ones, by being perceived as a party eager to plunge the U.S. into new conflicts. As Sen. Paul said recently, the GOP would benefit “if we had a less bellicose approach, if we were for a strong defense but a little bit less aggressive defense around the world.” This would also be a more sound and sustainable approach to conducting foreign policy. Sen. Paul is right on both counts.
One reason that his statement on Israel was so jarring was that it contradicts the rest of his message. If the U.S. should be involving itself in fewer conflicts and Republicans should try to be less bellicose in order to win more support, it makes no sense to offer a security guarantee to a state that doesn’t need it. If most Republicans agree with this position, most Democrats and independents don’t. Indeed, the gap between Republicans and all other Americans on this question is the largest one in this series of questions about when to send U.S. forces to war. Overall, the public is evenly divided on this question with slightly more opposition (50%) than support (49%). If the goal is to grow the Republican Party and repair its reputation on foreign policy with the public, this is a bad position to take. If one wants to improve Republican foreign policy as well as the party’s electoral prospects, it is a mistake to adopt a position that repels moderates and independents within the current Republican coalition while doing little or nothing to attract people from outside of it.