Rand Paul’s race for US Senate in Kentucky has quickly come to exemplify everything that is right — and wrong — with the mainstream conservative movement. Let’s start with what’s right: as the son of the outspoken, anti-establishment Republican Congressman Ron Paul, eye surgeon Rand Paul entered a daunting GOP senate race promising to shake things up on Capitol Hill, quickly won the support of grassroots conservatives with his earnest limited government message, and now has a substantial lead in the polls over his more established opponent, Trey Grayson.

Now for what’s wrong with the mainstream conservative movement — or as former Vice President Dick Cheney announced earlier this month: “I’m a lifelong conservative, and I can tell the real thing when I see it. I have looked at the records of both candidates in the race, and it is clear to me that Trey Grayson is right on the issues that matter.”

Cheney is a Bush Republican and as such, it might be first worth noting what issues don’t matter to him — exorbitant government spending, TARP bailouts, amnesty for illegal aliens, massive entitlement expansions of Medicare and increasing federal control of public education through programs like No Child Left Behind. Bush grew government more than any president since Lyndon Johnson, doubling the national debt, something Cheney famously dismissed by saying “deficits don’t matter.” Trey Grayson, whom Cheney considers the “real thing,” is a former Democrat who voted for and supported Bill Clinton in 1992, and though his former party affiliation has been of some concern to Republican voters in Kentucky, it doesn’t seem to faze Cheney, who still insists Grayson is right on the “issues that matter.” What the former vice president neglects to mention is that for “conservatives” of his stripe only one issue matters.

Reported The Politico earlier this month: “a well-connected former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney convened a conference call last week between Grayson and a group of leading national security conservatives to sound the alarm about Paul. ‘On foreign policy, [global war on terror], Gitmo, Afghanistan, Rand Paul is NOT one of us … It is our hope that you can help us get the word out about Rand Paul’s troubling and dangerous views on foreign policy.’ ”

What are Paul’s “troubling” and “dangerous” views on foreign policy? Like Republican Congressman Walter Jones; GOP Senator Tom Coburn; the late editor of National Review, William F. Buckley; and a majority of Americans, Paul regrets the U.S.’s decision to invade Iraq. Like conservative pundits Pat Buchanan and the late Robert Novak, Paul says he would have opposed going into Iraq in 2003. Like John McCain, Paul has concerns about Gitmo, but unlike his father Ron, son Rand does not believe its prisoners should be tried in civilian courts. Like conservative columnist George Will, Paul has serious reservations about President Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan. Like Dwight Eisenhower, Paul fears government waste, particularly as it relates to what Ike called the “military-industrial complex.” Paul also believes all wars should be declared by Congress, that the most important task of the federal government is national security and that defense should be the largest part of the national budget-albeit a much smaller national budget.

A foreign policy that costs as much in lives and dollars as that of the United States deserves serious scrutiny, and Paul, the traditional conservative, believes in scrutinizing government as a whole. Cheney, the neoconservative, has never been concerned with fiscal issues, something his record reflects, and on his one “issue that matters” — foreign policy — Cheney apparently believes no questions should ever be permitted, hence his attacks on Paul. Yes, much to Cheney’s chagrin, Paul has raised practical questions about the effectiveness of our methods in fighting the war on terror, whether we are using our soldiers properly, and has even applied a cost/benefit analysis to our foreign policy, much like a conservative accountant seeking to protect his client’s resources. For his practicality, Paul has caused panic amongst the GOP leadership, or as The American Conservative‘s Daniel McCarthy noted, their conference call “is all about Rand Paul and says little about Trey Grayson. The neoconservative establishment is terrified of the prospect of a Senator Paul.”

Most of the Tea Partiers I’ve encountered are indeed horrified by Obama’s spending, but also now regret that they didn’t speak out when Bush was doing his fiscal worst. A fresh-faced young Republican senator willing to question wasteful spending, domestic and abroad, is anathema to an old Republican guard used to spending trillions anywhere they like, without any pesky questions. Establishment men like Cheney will no doubt see “trouble” in any candidate who encourages reflection, second-guessing, or the slightest criticism toward Republican mistakes of the past, primarily because the GOP leadership doesn’t consider those actions mistakes and has every intention of committing more in the future. And a former Bill Clinton Democrat who tows the establishment line on foreign policy is far less “dangerous” to someone like Dick Cheney, than any conservative Republican who would dare lead other Republicans to finally question whether our foreign policy might be more trouble than it’s worth.