While former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent the weekend mending political fences with Democrats in Iowa, a potential rival for president in 2016 has been spending time revising his political stands to broaden his appeal among voters and quiet some GOP critics.
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, one of the most provocative GOP aspirants for the White House, has been reaching out to minorities, women and young people to improve his name recognition and expand his party’s appeal to voters beyond the traditional Republican base.
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While polls shows Paul is among the strongest GOP presidential contenders, his most glaring weaknesses are his reputation as an isolationist within a party that wants more aggressive action against ISIS and his small-government views that seem oddly out of sync with today’s political realities.
Unlike his father, former House member and libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul of Texas, Rand Paul has seemed eager to bend or reinvent his most controversial positions for the sake of advancing his presidential ambitions, as The Washington Post reported on Monday. “As the prospect of a 2016 presidential bid looms larger,” The Post’s David A. Fahrenthold wrote, “Paul is making it clear that he did not come to Washington to be a purist like his father.”
Last week, Paul told conservatives and libertarians in Manchester, N.H., that if he runs and is elected president, he would repeal “all previous executive orders” to end President Obama’s executive overreach, Breitbart News reported. That would mean scrubbing hundreds of thousands of official actions on the economy, the environment, industry and more.
Whether he stands by that pledge or sees things differently when the presidential campaign heats up remains to be seen.
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Meanwhile, here are five ways Paul has transformed his stance on issues that could help determine how high he rises in the GOP presidential sweepstakes in 2016:
Shedding the Olive Branch: While hawkish GOP senators including John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina demanded President Obama step up and broaden U.S. air strikes against ISIS and send arms to the Kurds, Paul for months struggled with his “mixed feelings” on military intervention.
In June, after ISIS had seized large swaths of northern Iraq and Syria, Paul said, “I’m not sure where the clear-cut American interest is” during an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press. He drew unfavorable attention with an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal in which he argued against U.S. military re-engagement in Iraq.
“Many … clamoring for military action now are the same people who made every false assumption imaginable about the cost, challenge and purpose of the Iraq war,” he wrote. “They have been so wrong for so long. Why should we listen to them again?”
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After the beheadings of two Americans and a swing in public support in favor of destroying ISIS capability, Paul said he approved of more airstrikes and other measures. “If I had been in President Obama’s shoes, I would have acted more decisively and strongly” against ISIS, he wrote in Time this month. “I would have called Congress back into session – even during recess” to demand congressional authorization for a wider U.S. military effort.
Getting More Comfortable with Foreign Aid: Shortly after coming to the Senate in 2011, the freshman Kentucky senator declared his support for eliminating all foreign aid – even to Israel, a country that has long enjoyed GOP support, and Egypt, the largest U.S. ally among Arab countries. He offered to save an additional $500 billion by “eliminat[ing] all international assistance,” according to the website PolitiFact.
After criticism by lawmakers and the media, Paul’s office issued a statement saying Paul “has never proposed any legislation that targeted Israel’s aid.” He then altered his proposal to cut all foreign aid except for $5 billion – an amount that would cover Israel’s $3 billion share with money left over for other allies, according to The Post. Last month, Paul suggested in an interview with Yahoo News that he had never really proposed getting rid of foreign aid to Israel.
Curbing His Utopian Instincts: Paul is hardly the first presidential aspirant with strong views on shrinking government. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, for instance, in 2012 advocated closing three government agencies, including the departments of Commerce, Education, and (“oops”) Energy. Paul at one point said he’d phase out Energy, Education, Commerce and Housing and Urban Development, though he’d preserve some functions within them, such as the National Weather Service, the Census Bureau, the Patent and Trademark Office and Pell Grants for college students.
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Paul has argued that in many cases, it would be better for states to determine directly how tax dollars are spent, rather than funneling them through the federal bureaucracy. But the senator’s aides told The Post recently that “Rand’s a pragmatist” now, and realizes we’re probably stuck with “a really large government.”
Preserving Medicare As We Know It: Paul jarred many seniors groups in 2012 with a bold plan to replace Medicare with a program that provided subsidies so seniors could buy their coverage from private insurers. The proposal was similar to one designed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) to phase out the government-run health insurance program, but didn’t include Ryan’s option of allowing seniors to remain in the old Medicare system if they chose.
Everyone eligible for Medicare would be shifted to Rand Paul’s new approach, he said. That made his plan even more unpopular than Ryan’s star-crossed proposal, and earned him the enmity of many seniors and liberal Democrats. Two years later, Paul and his advisers are working up a new proposal – one that Paul’s aides say may preserve the existing Medicare program in some form. In a speech last month in Iowa City, Paul said, “Those of you on Social Security and Medicare, nothing will change,” according to The Post.
Seeing Abortion A Little Differently: Paul arrived in the Senate an ardent foe of abortion. Last year, he drafted a bill declaring a fertilized egg a human being whose life is protected by law, The Post noted. Yet earlier this year, Paul acknowledged his proposal is not likely to become law any time soon. “My religious and personal belief is that life begins at the very beginning,” he said during an interview with former Obama senior adviser David Axelrod at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics. But he added, “I think where the country is, is somewhere in the middle and that we’re not changing any of the laws until the country is persuaded otherwise.”
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