As Rand Paul launches his bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, he aims for nothing less than to transform his party, driven by his belief the GOP must “evolve, adapt or die.”
The son of libertarian folk hero Ron Paul, the former House member from Texas who lost three presidential campaigns, Rand Paul says he represents “a unique brand of conservative constitutionalism that also reaches out to new people” and can draw into the party minorities, liberals and independents.
Paul is taking positions liberal Democrats have held – such as skepticism about U.S. intervention abroad and opposition to broad government surveillance – and trying to make them Republican orthodoxy.
He contrasts himself with rivals such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, saying that the campaign “isn’t just about rousing the base” taking the “principles of liberty, not diluting them and taking them to new people and bringing them into the party.”
At the heart of Paul’s ideology is his wariness of the power of government and his belief it must be confined with the limits set by the Constitution.
In an address to the Conservative Political Action Conference early in 2015 he said, “When the intelligence director lies to Congress, how are we to trust them? Are we to trust them to collect and hold every American’s phone records? I say that your phone records are yours! I say that the phone records of law-abiding citizens are none of their damn business!”
Paul held the Senate floor for 13 hours on March 6, 2013, conducting a “talking filibuster” to delay a confirmation vote on John O. Brennan, President Barack Obama’s nominee for CIA director. Paul wanted the White House to give a clear answer on whether the president has the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil. He got his answer — no — along with applause from people who view the expansion of presidential power as a threat to civil liberties.
He has expressed some of the same reservations about the sentencing of drug offenders. “I’ve always felt like the war on drugs was overly criminalized and used overly harsh penalties,” he told The New Yorker in 2014, “but I never really spent enough time in the African-American community to know how devastating it is to their community.”
On foreign policy, Paul is at odds with more aggressive military advocates such as South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Arizona Sen. John McCain, who in a 2013 interview with the Huffington Post called Paul one of the “wacko birds” of the right, along with Cruz and Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan.
Addressing CPAC, Paul said, “We must protect ourselves from jihadists without losing who we are as a people in the process. We must think before we act. We should promote stability, not chaos. In the Middle East, one form of tyranny often replaces another. When secular despots are overthrown, chaos ensues and radical Islam grows stronger.”
On Iran and its nuclear ambitions, Paul breaks with hardliners such as Cruz and Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who early in 2015 wanted new U.S. sanctions imposed on the Tehran regime.
“New sanctions in the middle of negotiations is a huge mistake and may well break up the sanctions coalition, may well drive Iran away from the table,” Paul told a Foreign Relations Committee hearing. “I have been one who wants sanctions because I don’t want war, frankly.”
But he was one of the 47 Republican senators who signed a letter written by Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton telling Iran's leaders that any arms deal they reached with President Obama would not be binding after he left office unless Congress agreed to it.
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