Rand Paul shatters left-right paradigm, can help grow GOP

Many continue to ask how the GOP can remain a party that can win elections and govern nationally. They already have an answer.

Sen. Rand Paul has the benefit of being one of the most conservative Republicans in the traditional, limited-government sense, while holding unique ideological positions that make it possible for him to build new coalitions other Republicans cannot.

Beltway critics insist that Sen. Paul’s libertarianism limits him. Some say that the senator’s positions on foreign policy, civil liberties and drug law reform make him unacceptable. They are wrong. Paul’s libertarianism broadens the Republican Party’s appeal. In fact, if the GOP is going to have a fighting chance, it will need to become a more libertarian party.

The heart of American conservatism has always been the simple notion that government is the problem — that government must be limited in scope, checked in its power and restrained by the Constitution. This was Goldwater’s creed and Reagan’s promise. It is what the Tea Party represents today. It is what most conservatives will continue to espouse tomorrow and for the foreseeable future.

This view of the state is also essentially libertarian, something completely missing from the Republican Party the last time it held power, when debt and government doubled. Today, fiscal hawks, values voters, national security conservatives — virtually every part of the Republican coalition — see massive spending as the primary threat to our health and survival. Sen. Paul represents this overarching concern and this coalition, perhaps better than any other national GOP leader.

But what about where Paul differs from the GOP? Critics’ first target is usually foreign policy, noting that Paul breaks with too many Republicans on this issue. This is true. It is also one of his greatest political advantages.

Amazingly, many Republicans still see the Bush-Cheney foreign policy legacy as exemplary. But not most Americans. For years now, the polls have shown a war-weary country that sees far more cost than benefit in our decade spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. Americans still want a strong defense, but they want decidedly less intervention abroad. Rasmussen recently reported that only 17% of Americans want the U.S. to intervene in Syria.

Still, some insist on mislabeling Paul’s foreign policy as outside the mainstream. The truth is that a policy prescription of a strong national defense and less involvement in protracted wars represents the mainstream of America much better than the bellicosity of the neoconservatives.

Independents and America’s youth are, in fact, drawn to a common-sense foreign policy that incorporates Eisenhower’s reluctance toward pre-emptive war, that understands both the human and fiscal costs of war.

Sen. Paul considers himself a foreign policy realist. There will always be neoconservatives who will continue to label Paul an “isolationist” — but who actually believes this? Does anyone outside the Republican war caucus think this? The Cato Institute’s Christopher Preble recently asked: “Are those people who believe that the primary object of the U.S. military is to defend the United States and its vital interests isolationists? Is it ‘isolationist’ to believe that a government’s most sacred obligation is to defend its people from harm, and therefore that other countries should take responsibility for their own security?”