MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — Rand Paul is under attack.
Leading in early 2016 polls here, and in a surprisingly strong position in his potential bid for the GOP presidential nomination about two years out, the Kentucky Republican is coming under sustained scrutiny from the media, institutional left, and even some critics on the right, who have zoned in on alleged inconsistencies in his record.
Paul is already being tailed by a tracker from the left-wing group American Bridge, and the Democratic National Committee seems to have made a point of late in contesting any move Paul makes – including a charitable trip to Guatamala in which he performed pro bono surgeries to give blind people their sight back.
Following a spate of negative media stories about Paul, DNC communications director Michael Czin moved to pile on.
“Rand Paul’s problem isn’t that he changes positions – it’s that he insists that he can simultaneously hold multiple, contradictory positions on a litany of key issues,” Czin said in a statement Monday.
At issue were four negative stories – appearing in Yahoo News, the Washington Post, the Weekly Standard and the Huffington Post – accusing Paul of flip-flopping and speaking out of both sides of his mouth.
Friday, the Huffington Post wrote about comments Paul made to Generation Opportunity’s New Hampshire chapter here, first reported by Breitbart News.
“I think the first executive order that I would issue would be to repeal all previous executive orders,” Paul said during the event. “Democracy is messy, but you have to build consensus to pass things. But it’s also in some ways good, because a lot of laws take away your freedom. So it should be hard to pass a law.”
Liberal organization American Bridge, founded by leftist David Brock as an offshoot of Media Matters, took Paul’s comment literally and argued in an email sent by press secretary Jesse Lehrich that Paul meant he wanted to undo the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln that freed the slaves, among other executive orders.
Lehrich sent a list of executive orders that would be rescinded if every executive order were repealed, including Executive Order 9981 by Harry Truman that ended racial discrimination in the armed forces; Executive Order 10834 by Dwight Eisenhower, which “established specifications for the design of the current United States flag;” and Executive Orders 10925 and 11063 by John F. Kennedy, which respectively “ensured equal employment opportunities in the federal government, barring discrimination based on ‘race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,'” and “mandated an end to housing discrimination based on race.”
“Senator Paul’s statement was meant to emphasize this president’s overt and unconstitutional executive orders, it was not meant to be taken literally,” Paul aide Doug Stafford, the senator’s senior adviser, responded to the attacks in a comment to the Huffington Post.
The Huffington Post piece, in which author Igor Bobic wrote that Paul’s comments taken literally “seems downright absurd,” was published 15 minutes after American Bridge blasted Paul in the email to reporters. The American Bridge tracker had been kicked out of the event at which Paul made the remarks by Paul aides.
Paul and his aides say the heightened scrutiny comes with the territory. Paul said, when asked for his reaction to the fact that liberal groups like American Bridge are targeting him:
They say that if you’re not drawing flak, you’re not over the target. So I think that they’re sensitive, and I think they’re also very aware–and I didn’t get into it so much tonight, but I think that my discussion of Hillary Clinton and the disaster that she was a part of in Libya in Benghazi and now with the chaos in Libya–that that’s really hitting the mark and that she’s going to have a tough time really getting beyond that and they’re really sensing that. They’ll get more of it tomorrow too.
“When you’re the subject of a left-wing attack piece, you know you’re doing something right, and you know you are scaring the heck out of the left,” Paul aide Stafford added.
“Unfair hatchet jobs from the left won’t deter Senator Paul from taking his message to every corner of our nation,” said Paul aide Sergio Gor.
Sunday, a lengthy Washington Post story argued Paul has repeatedly changed his position on key issues.
“What, exactly, does Rand Paul believe?” the Post‘s David Fahrenthold wrote. “To answer the question, The Washington Post reviewed Paul’s speeches, his op-eds, and the 326 pieces of legislation he has authored.”
“Sen. Rand Paul wanted to eliminate aid to Israel. Now he doesn’t,” Fahrenthold wrote.
“In 2011, in his early, fire-breathing days as a senator, he proposed eliminating all U.S. foreign aid — even aid to Israel, considered sacrosanct in the Republican Party,” Fahrenthold added later in the piece. “But after an outcry, he soon altered his proposal; he wanted instead to cut all foreign aid, except for $5 billion a year. Why $5 billion? A Paul aide said that amount would give Israel its full share — more than $3 billion per year — and still have money left over.”
The early proposal from Paul did cut aid across the board, including to Israel, and his subsequent proposal did cap foreign aid at $5 billion, with $3 billion for Israel.
A Paul aide said the second proposal was an effort to get the discussion started about foreign aid in a more realistic place, not a change in Paul’s position. And, the aide noted, top Israeli officials have themselves said that U.S. aid to Israel should be phased out.
In 1996 and 2011, Bibi Netanyahu urged the U.S. Congress to end aid to Israel.
“I believe that we can now say that Israel has reached childhood’s end, that it has matured enough to begin approaching a state of self-reliance,” Netanyahu said in 1996 before the U.S. Congress, adding: “We are going to achieve economic independence [from the United States].”
Netanyahu said in 2011 before the U.S. Congress
My friends, you don’t have to — you don’t need to do nation- building in Israel. We’re already built. You don’t need to export democracy to Israel. We’ve already got it. And you don’t need to send American troops to Israel. We defend ourselves. You’ve been very generous in giving us tools to do the job of defending Israel on our own. Thank you all, and thank you, President Obama, for your steadfast commitment to Israel’s security. I know economic times are tough. I deeply appreciate this.
Paul’s allies argue that unlike his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), Rand is a “pragmatist” or “realist” who has an ideal view of how America should function: a system that very closely resembles what the founding fathers envisioned when they drafted the Constitution. Rand is more willing to work within the system and use a carrot rather than a stick than Ron, they say.
“I think there’s no question that the Party of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Party of limited government and balanced budgets, really is moving in the direction that I’ve been talking about for several years,” Paul said in a recent interview with Breitbart News. “I think that also some of the libertarian-ish kind of ideas are becoming more popular and being seen by many people as a way to expand and grow the party.”
How successful has Paul been at getting a seat at the table? He’s leading the latest CNN-ORC poll in New Hampshire with 15 percent to 10 percent for both Paul Ryan and Jeb Bush. And in a crucial swing state like Colorado, Paul leads Hillary Clinton by five points, 48-43, in a poll released in April, and he’s among the top candidates according to Real Clear Politics’ polling averages when polled head-to-head with Clinton–finishing 40.6 percent to Clinton’s 49.5 percent.
He is also drawing support while under fire from key figures in the Republican Party.
“We have a great bench of leaders and potential candidates like Rand Paul who are doing a great job of helping our party attract new voters,” RNC spokesman Raffi Williams said in an emailed statement. “The DNC appears to have given up on the midterms and is desperately flailing with false attacks on Republicans as they watch their own party flounder under the leadership of a deeply unpopular president.”
“Senator Rand Paul is a strong advocate for the Republican principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility, and individual liberty,” NH GOP chairwoman Jennifer Horn said in a statement to Breitbart News on Monday afternoon. “He was extremely well received by our grassroots activists at our Republican Unity breakfast, and we look forward to welcoming him back to the Granite State again soon.”
“I think Democrats see Sen. Paul as a serious threat,” Matt Moore, the 32-year-old chairman of the South Carolina GOP, said in an interview on Monday. “He’s talking about issues that no one else is willing to talk about. I like that he’s trying to connect with every American, not just Republicans or Democrats. It’s refreshing and unique.”
Moore added, Paul’s message is resonating in South Carolina:
Most certainly. He’s been here a lot. He’s really on the rise in South Carolina. I like that when Sen. Paul is in South Carolina, the faces in the audience are different. They’re black, they’re white, they’re young, they’re old, they’re rich, they’re poor. He has a real ability to expand our tent long term. The Democrats don’t own the African American vote, and I like that Sen. Paul is tackling really tough issues head on. Number one, he’s not abandoning our conservative principles, and number two, he’s not saying things in an offensive way. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. He’s saying them in a very appealing way.
Iowa GOP chairman Jeff Kaufmann told Breitbart News that Paul has been helpful with candidates throughout his state:
Sen. Rand Paul has given his time to help Republican candidates in Iowa as well as assisting the party by energizing rank-and-file volunteers at several of our regional office openings. He has a message of growing our party, which those of us responsible for electing Republicans are happy to hear. The Iowa GOP welcomes every national Republican leader to share their policy visions directly with our activists while helping to elect Iowa Republicans in 2014–our main focus.
Paul faced another arrow from Yahoo’s Chris Moody, who wrote a piece headlined “Why won’t Rand Paul admit he’s changed his mind?”
Like a fourth piece by the Weekly Standard‘s John McCormack about Paul’s view on U.S. military force against ISIS, both writers argue Paul significantly changed his view on air strikes to combat the Islamic State (ISIS) – but won’t admit it.
In June, Paul wrote skeptically about air strikes to combat ISIS in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, asking, “What would airstrikes accomplish?” and “Do we want to, in effect, become Iran’s air force?”
Although the weight of the article was clearly against air strikes, Paul explicitly said only that the questions he was raising needed to be evaluated before any military action was decided on. That approach stuck until late August, when he began saying he would take more decisive action against ISIS than President Obama is if he were in the oval office.
“If I had been in President Obama’s shoes, I would have acted more decisively and strongly against ISIS. Some pundits are surprised that I support destroying the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) militarily. They shouldn’t be. I’ve said since I began public life that I am not an isolationist, nor am I an interventionist,” he wrote in a Sept. 4 op-ed in Time.
Paul is certainly skeptical of getting the United States more militarily involved in various places around the world. But Paul aides, and some allies in the media, note that only one year ago, hawks in both parties wanted to conduct air strikes against the embattled Assad regime, which is now fighting against ISIS.
Fox News’ Eric Bolling wrote on Monday that Paul’s “libertarian beliefs may have saved the U.S. from joining sides with ISIS!” Bolling wrote:
Everyone else from President Obama, to Hillary Clinton, to John McCain, wanted to go to war against the Assad regime last year, fighting on the side of the Free Syrian Army, many of whom would later become fighters for ISIS. In fact, the entire D.C. foreign policy establishment wanted to help ISIS just one year ago. By waiting, we avoided arming ISIS even further. Thankfully, Senator Paul correctly noted that the real threats were the Al Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in Syria (ISIS), and warned, we should do nothing that would help them. Fast forward to now, and the entire foreign policy establishment has switched teams saying we must destroy ISIS. The establishment is late to the game, but thankfully, they have at least arrived.
“People who wanted to bomb one side of a war last year, then bomb the other side this year, have a lot of nerve discussing flip flopping,” Stafford, Paul’s senior adviser, told Breitbart News.
At the time, the proposal to bomb Syria ran into forceful public opposition, and a congressional vote sought by Obama was eventually abandoned. If it had come to a vote, it would have failed by a large margin.
That skepticism from Paul–and desire to have all the facts before acting too hastily–is what was behind the Wall Street Journal op-ed earlier this summer, his aides said.
In it, Paul quotes former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum–who advocated for the Iraq war in 2003–as saying that the U.S. seems to have acted too quickly. Frum said, “the United States overestimated the threat from Saddam Hussein in 2003. Without an active nuclear-weapons program, he was not a danger beyond his immediate vicinity. That war cost this country dearly. The United States failed in its most ambitious objective: establishing a stable, Western-oriented government for all of Iraq.”