Matt Lewis reviews the negative reaction to Rand Paul’s vote against cloture last week:

Indeed, Rand seemed to be threading the needle nicely until the last week or so, when he voted to not end debate on Chuck Hagel’s secretary of defense nomination (and effectively guaranteed that our long national nightmare would continue for at least another week).

Like the Pauls, Hagel presumably wants to oversee a more modest foreign policy. And like the Pauls, Hagel has been accused of failing to be sufficiently pro-Israel. Thus, in helping stall (or possibly even derail?) Hagel’s confirmation, some saw Paul’s move as an act of betrayal.

Lewis’ summary is mostly fair, but he misunderstands Sen. Paul’s problem with many of his potential supporters if he believes that he was “threading the needle nicely” before last week. The reason that the latest vote provoked a strong backlash was that it was just the latest in a string of bad decisions in recent months, and it was among the least necessary. While Sen. Paul may have believed that he was building bridges to “pro-Israel” hawkish groups by taking an unwise position on settlements and affirming a security guarantee for Israel, he was mostly just burning bridges with the people otherwise most likely to support him in the future. The former will never truly trust him, just as they don’t trust Hagel, and it is a mistake to think they can be placated by anything short of full conformity.

No one thinks that the Republicans voting yes on cloture last week are in any danger of facing a popular backlash or a primary challenge. There was minimal political risk in voting yes last week. It should have been an easy yes vote, and then there would have been a vote on the nomination by now. The no vote was a failure to follow through on Paul’s own foreign policy arguments when it would have been fairly easy to do so. If one wants to be seen as a defender of the Republican realist tradition, it’s an obvious mistake to side with the people intent on rejecting that tradition and defaming one of its most high-profile adherents.