WASHINGTON — Rolling out his long-awaited presidential campaign on Tuesday, Rand Paul billed himself as “a different kind of Republican” who would defeat the “Washington machine.”
“That’s not who I am,” he declared in Louisville, to cheers from an adoring crowd. “Both parties and the entire political system are to blame.”
But how different is he from the traditional Republican politician?
As he highlighted in a video message before his remarks, the libertarian-minded Kentucky senator has indeed been consistent in bucking his party on several issues, such as opposing NSA spying on Americans, relaxing punishments for non-violent drug offenses and standing against the prospect of drone strikes against U.S. citizens on American soil.
But on other issues atop the minds of core Republican primary voters, Paul has strayed — some in rhetoric, some on policy as well — from his previous libertarian-minded positions that had set him apart from the pack.
Here are five examples.
One of Paul’s signature issues was slashing spending across the federal budget — including the military budget — in service of eliminating the deficit. His brand of noninterventionism was reflected in his budget proposals when joining the Senate. No sacred cows.
But after a series of gruesome beheadings in the Middle East by the Islamic State militant group sparked a renaissance for GOP hawks, Paul warmed up to the idea. He offered a budget amendment last month to boost military spending by about 16 percent over two years, the same amount hawks like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) had supported. One difference: Paul’s amendment offset that spending, with even greater domestic cuts.
“The enemy is radical Islam. You can’t get around it,” Paul said in his speech Tuesday, calling the militants “haters of mankind.”
Three months after expressing “concern” last June that launching air strikes against the Islamic State would only complicate matters in the war-torn region, Paul became a true believer. “I would vote yes and I would do it in a heartbeat,” he told NBC’s Meet The Press in September. “Radical Islam is a threat to the United States, our embassies, our journalists.”
Cutting off all foreign aid — without exception — was a trademark issue for Paul when he joined the Senate in 2011, and his budget proposals reflected that. “I’m not singling out Israel. I support Israel. I want to be known as a friend of Israel, but not with money you don’t have,” Paul told ABC News in February 2011.
By August 2014 he appeared to have come around. “[D]on’t mischaracterize my position on Israel,” he told Yahoo News when asked about his previous opposition to providing aid. He told CNN, “I haven’t proposed targeting or eliminating any aid to Israel.”
Before he became a senator, Paul mocked the hawks in his party who criticized his father Ron Paul, accusing them of wanting war with Iran. “They all want to invade Iran next,” he said in December 2007, adding: “It’s ridiculous to think that they’re a threat to our national security. It’s not even that viable to say they’re a threat to Israel.”
With the issue of Iran now white hot as the White House seeks to negotiate a diplomatic deal to curtail its nuclear program, Paul has essentially toed the party line against the emerging agreement. He signed on to an open letter to Iran’s leaders by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) which was rather explicitly aimed at scuttling the negotiations. Weighing in on the deal framework Tuesday for the first time, Paul voiced skepticism. “The difference between President Obama and myself: he seems to think you can negotiate from a position of weakness,” he said.
Paul has been consistent for years that states must be able to decide whether same-sex marriage is legal. That hasn’t changed. But he recently blew a dog-whistle in the direction of evangelicals who strongly oppose gay marriage. Speaking to a group of pastors in Washington last month, Paul reportedly lamented that there was a “moral crisis that allows people to think there would be some other sort of marriage” than between a man and a woman.
Contrary to some perceptions, Paul’s actual position didn’t change. But the words “moral crisis” tend to echo the sentiments of those who believe gay marriage is immoral, which polls say is a majority of the Republican base.