Rand Paul hangs a lantern on his foreign policy problem with the GOP

In a fascinating piece in USA Today, Glenn Reynolds (AKA Instapundit) urged the Republican Party in control of the next Congress to pass six bills right away. They are not cautious proposals.

Reynolds’s suggestions include repealing the drinking age currently pegged at 21-years-old, the decriminalization of marijuana at the federal level, liberalizing Clinton-era entertainment copyright laws, increasing access to pharmaceutical contraceptives, and eliminating public-sector employee unions. These proposals are as politically savvy as they are smart policy; they cleave off portions of the youth vote for whom corporate tax policy is a perfectly abstract concept and they target Democratic constituencies that thrive in environments in which competition is limited.

All of these policies could be considered appeals to a species of libertarianism. The GOP base is growing increasingly friendly toward the libertarian approach to contentious policy matters on the domestic front, but libertarian prescriptions for America’s challenges abroad are far less appealing to the broadest segment of the Republican coalition.

This is the central problem plaguing Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) nascent presidential campaign. The junior Kentucky senator represents the vanguard of influential libertarian-leaning Republicans wresting control of the party away from the compassionate conservatives of an earlier era. The proliferation of conflicts abroad and threats to American national security posed by both state and non-state actors has, however, made the GOP decidedly less friendly toward the libertarian embrace of American retrenchment.

The 2014 midterm elections demonstrated the resurgent power of the GOP’s hawks. Interventionist Republican candidates like Joni Ernst and Tom Cotton are set to join a Republican-dominated Senate in January, where hawkish Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Bob Corker (R-TN) wield significant influence. In the next Senate, Paul’s brand of disengagement is a minority point of view.

But, while Paul did abandon his early opposition to the war against ISIS in the Middle East, the Kentucky senator is not twisting in the political winds. In an op-ed in The Daily Beast, Paul sought to upend the narrative that his style of foreign policy is out of step with the Republican Party.

“I believe the president must come to Congress to begin a war,” Paul wrote. “I also believe the War Powers Act is misunderstood; President Obama acted without true constitutional authority even before the 90 days expired, since we were not under attack at that time.”

“But in either case, this war is now illegal,” he continued. “It must be declared and made valid, or it must be ended.”

Paul took direct aim at the hawks within his party, framing them as closer to the Obama administration than their Republican constituents on foreign matters relating to affairs:

Prominent Republicans from the interventionist wing of the party parrot and applaud Kerry’s position. If ever there was too much bipartisanship, it would be the bipartisan acceptance of unlimited presidential war-making power.

Conservatives should realize, though, what unfettered presidential power means. Proponents of this theory argue that congressional laws cannot limit the president’s power to perform warrantless searches, carry out wiretaps, detain perceived enemies of the state, or even torture people—not just of enemy soldiers, but American citizens not engaged in combat.

Apologists for unlimited presidential war power, like former Bush administration official John Yoo, claim that no law “can place any limits on the president’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response.” Yoo further argues for unchecked executive power by claiming that the explicit constitutional power for Congress to declare war is really not a check at all. In a remarkable work of double-speak, Yoo writes that the Declare War Clause does not grant Congress any power to initiate war, but only the “judicial power” to recognize whether “the nation was [already] in a legal state of war” for purposes of “domestic” law.

It is unclear whether Paul can rebrand his opposition to interventionist foreign policy as opposition to unfettered executive authority. It is, however, telling that Paul is trying to reframe both his position on intervention in conflicts abroad and those of his likely GOP rivals ahead of 2016.