I wrote a pretty tough column the other day on Rand Paul’s foreign policy (although not nearly as tough as some others). I want to emphasize that the nice things I said about Paul in it weren’t just boilerplate. He’s an engaging guy and someone you can have an actual conversation with, whereas some politicians at his level can’t help repeating rote talking points at you. His political judgment can be quite sensible; although he went through the motions, he never really bought into the fanciful idea that forcing a confrontation over a government shutdown would lead to the defunding of Obamacare. On issues like drug and criminal-justice policy, I think he’s a fresh and important voice.
But the foreign policy is a problem, and he’s going to be pulled two ways on a numbers of these issues, between pure Paulism and the Republican mainstream. On Ukraine, for instance, his initial reaction suggested he didn’t think we should be bothering the Russians too much for their assertion in a traditional sphere of influence. Then, he changed his tune and wrote this essay for Time that is indistinguishable from what most Republicans are saying (except Paul opposes the Ukraine aid bill, which is a big caveat). I think he’s going to have any number of these re-calibrations and semi-walk-backs during his inevitable presidential run.