Rand Paul formally announced his presidential campaign today in Louisville. His speech was preceded by many testimonials and introductions from supporters and family, and the speech wove together a number of themes from these earlier remarks. Paul emphasized freedom and economic opportunity throughout, railed against excessive government debt, and talked about providing opportunities to Americans in impoverished areas. Many of the proposals were so familiar because they might have come from the stump speech of almost any Republican candidate from the 1990s. There was the insistence on balanced budgets, the traditional invocation of tax cuts to promote growth, the endorsement of school choice, and even a call for Congressional term limits. The endorsement of “economic freedom zones” also felt like a throwback to the time of Jack Kemp.
Paul also called for surveillance reform in the context of supporting what he called “this long war against evil,” by which he was referring to “radical Islam.” In general, Paul’s foreign policy rhetoric was combative enough to be off-putting to antiwar conservatives and libertarians, but not so aggressive that it would satisfy many hawks. Apart from some standard arguments against nation-building, Paul had nothing to say in this section that would make anyone suspect that he is interested in foreign policy restraint, but he emphasized peace in “peace through strength” just enough that hawks will probably still view him with suspicion. On the contrary, Paul said that he would “do whatever it takes to defend America from these haters of mankind,” which seems to imply support for some sort of unlimited and open-ended campaign.
Paul addressed the Iran negotiations at greater length than I expected. He had to offer a torturous explanation for why he supports Corker’s Iran bill despite the fact that it jeopardizes diplomacy with Iran. He stated his preference to negotiate “from a position of strength,” but failed to explain how backing a bill that imposes deal-killing conditions puts the U.S. in a stronger negotiating position. Paul’s position on the nuclear deal is vague enough that it doesn’t tell us much of anything. He said he won’t support any deal that doesn’t “end” Iran’s “nuclear ambitions.” That doesn’t tell us what he thinks those “ambitions” are or how we would ever know that they have been brought to an “end.” All of that suggests that he may be trying to find a way to oppose a final deal without coming out and saying so right now.