When a young undocumented immigrant marched up to conservative firebrand Rep. Steve King in Iowa and introduced herself as a Dreamer, Sen. Rand Paul put down his burger after taking one bite and literally fled the scene.
The awkward move — which lit up social media, made headlines and inspired gifs of his swift escape — represents the Kentucky Republican’s consciousness of the power of immigration as a national issue as he lays the groundwork for a 2016 presidential run with staff hires and trips to key primary states.
The freshman senator is walking a very fine line between seeking not to alienate the country’s fastest growing demographic, Hispanics, and keeping faith with the immigration-weary Republican base. He has been all over the map, from saying he’s “for immigration reform” to voting against the Senate-passed bill in 2013 to voicing “sympathy” for Dreamers to supporting a potential path to citizenship while saying he doesn’t actually support a “path to citizenship.”
But that sort of obfuscation is normal for presidential candidates.
What’s unusual is the way Paul is fleeing several controversial stances he held before political reality about his presidential ambitions set in: by seeking to write them out of history. The son of libertarian iconoclast Ron Paul appears to be more serious about the White House than his father, who seemed more interested in appealing to his cult following than a mainstream audience during his three presidential runs. Paul isn’t merely saying his previously stated views have changed — he’s insisting he never took those positions in the first place.
Take Israel. This week, as the death toll continued to rise in Israel’s war with Hamas, Paul told Yahoo News that he never supporting phasing out U.S. aid to the Jewish state. “I haven’t really proposed that in the past,” he told reporter Chris Moody, adding: “[D]on’t mischaracterize my position on Israel.” On Wednesday he told CNN, “I haven’t proposed targeting or eliminating any aid to Israel.”
Only Paul has proposed just that. Within weeks of becoming a senator in 2011, Paul floated a budget plan which cut all foreign aid — including to Israel — and he questioned whether Republicans have the guts to do what’s necessary to eliminate the deficit. “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 Feb. 2011. “We can’t just borrow from our kids’ future and give it to countries — even if they are our friends.”
Then there’s the Civil Rights Act. Paul is now insisting he has always supported the landmark 1964 federal law. “The honest discussion of it would be that I never was opposed to the Civil Rights Act,” he said last week on MSNBC, suggesting that the cable network was lying about his views by suggesting otherwise.
The reality is less simple. During his 2010 Senate bid, Paul in multiple interviews cast doubt on a portion of the Civil Rights Act which forces private businesses to serve customers regardless of race. He emphasized that while he supports the vast majority of the act, and finds racism of any kind abhorrent, he doesn’t want the federal government making those sorts of impositions on private actors.
“Should we limit racists from speaking?” he said in a famous 2010 interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. “I don’t want to be associated with those people, but I also don’t want to limit their speech in any way in the sense that we tolerate boorish and uncivilized behavior because that’s one of the things freedom requires is that we allow people to be boorish and uncivilized, but that doesn’t mean we approve of it.”
The Washington Post’s fact checker didn’t mince words, concluding: “Paul is rewriting history here.”