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First Read: A Changing Foreign Policy Landscape is Bad News for Rand Paul

First Read is the NBC Political Unit’s morning briefing on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter
Image: Rand Paul
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., listens to a question at the Epoch Restaurant in Exeter, N.H., Saturday, March 21, 2015. Paul is traveling through New Hampshire this weekend, hosting several events with local leaders, business owners and activists. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)Cheryl Senter / AP
/ Source: NBC News

First Read is the NBC Political Unit’s morning briefing on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter

Rand Paul faces a foreign policy world turned upside down for him

A year ago, it was safe to call Rand Paul the closest thing Republicans had to a presidential frontrunner. One of the reasons why: He found a GOP audience more in step with his libertarian-leaning and less-hawkish views. After all, it was the time of Edward Snowden, concerns about drone warfare, and troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan. And the polling told the story: Per a July 2013 NBC/WSJ survey, 57% of Republicans say they were more concerned that the government would gotoo far in violating the privacy rights of American citizens, versus just 37% who were more worried that the U.S. wouldn’t go far enough to monitor the activities of potential terrorists living in the country. But flash forward to today as Paul announces his presidential bid at noon ET from Louisville, KY. He now faces a world -- especially in the Middle East -- that’s turned upside down for him, with ISIS and Iran dominating the foreign-policy/national security landscape. A Jan. 2015 NBC/WSJ poll found the numbers essentially reversed on the same privacy-terrorism question: 60% of Republicans were more concerned the U.S. wouldn’t go far enough, compared with 36% more worried that the government would go too far. In other words, as the GOP has moved on national security, the “Different Kind of Republican” Paul represents has lost some mojo.

Rand Paul: Now vs. then on key foreign-affairs issues

This reality has tied Paul into knots on key issues, especially those concerning foreign affairs. Consider:

  • Rand Paul on Iran in 2007, per Bloomberg: "I tell people in speeches, you know, we’re against the Iraq war, we have been from the beginning, but we’re also against the Iran war, the one that hasn’t started yet. I think people want to paint my father into some corner, but if you look at it intellectually, look at the evidence that Iran is not a threat. Iran cannot even refine their own gasoline. Over 50 percent of their gasoline is imported from Europe." (Interview with Alex Jones, 12/07)
  • Rand Paul on Iran now: "Senator Paul will be watching closely and believes any deal must make clear Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon, allows for full verification and is approved by Congress. He voted for sanctions both times they were put before Congress and believes only Congress should remove those sanctions." (Campaign statement to Bloomberg, 4/6/15)
  • Rand Paul on Israel in 2011: “While this budget proposal does eliminate foreign aid to Israel, it is not meant to hurt, negate, or single out one of America’s most important allies. This proposal eliminates all foreign aid to all countries. Israel’s ability to conduct foreign policy, regain economic dominance, and support itself without the heavy hand of U.S. interests and policies, will only strengthen the Israeli community.” (Paul FY 2012 budget, released March 2011)
  • Rand Paul on Israel in 2014: “Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul on Monday denied that he once supported ending federal aid to Israel — an idea he proposed as recently as 2011. ‘I haven’t really proposed that in the past,’ Paul told Yahoo News when asked if he still thought the U.S. should phase out aid to Israel, which has been battling Hamas in Gaza for weeks. ‘We’ve never had a legislative proposal to do that.’” (Yahoo, 8/4/14)

Paul hits the road

After Paul’s event at noon ET in Louisville, he heads tomorrow for a rally in New Hampshire (at a town hall in Milford). Then he’s off to South Carolina on Thursday (where he’ll speak at the U.S.S. Yorktown in Mt. Pleasant), Iowa on Friday (at the University of Iowa), and Nevada on Saturday (Las Vegas). Be sure not to miss Perry Bacon’s piece on why Paul’s odds of winning the GOP nomination are so long.

Father Ron Paul’s silent role

By the way, the New York Times takes a look at the role -- or lack thereof -- that father Ron Paul will be playing on his son’s campaign. “He was one of the most energizing forces in the Republican primaries in 2008 and 2012, an improbable hero whose speeches drew libertarians and college students by the hundreds and sometimes thousands. But don’t expect to see much of Ron Paul in his son’s presidential campaign. On Tuesday, when Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is expected to announce his candidacy for the 2016 Republican nomination at a rally here, his father, Ron, the former Texas congressman, will have a silent role.” Make no mistake: Without his father’s presidential bids in ’08 and ’12, we wouldn’t be talking about Rand Paul today. And then there’s this question we’ve often asked: Who has more influence on today’s Republican Party -- George W. Bush or Ron Paul? The answer to the question will probably tell us who the GOP nominee will be in July 2016.

On Jeb’s Latino “mistake”

On the one hand, Jeb Bush checking himself -- accidentally -- as a Latino on a 2009 voter-registration form seems like a minor thing. After all, people make mistakes. And Bush made fun of the error on Twitter. And remember, ever single member of his family checks the Hispanic besides him. On the OTHER hand, plenty of Bush-ologists will use this “Freudian” slip to analyze his relationship with his father/mother. Of course, Jeb probably does identify more with Miami’s Latin culture than the Kennebunkport culture of his father and grandfather.

The White House’s goal: To get the Schumers and Kaines back on the reservation when it comes to Iran

Yesterday, we wrote that President Obama’s first test in selling the Iran deal/framework is with his OWN party. And as a result, it’s perhaps not surprising that the president’s first post-deal interviews have been with the New York Times’ Tom Friedman and NPR. The goal is to get the Chuck Schumers and Tim Kaines back on the reservation. And the news from the Friedman and NPR interviews is that the White House has shifted its rhetoric -- it’s trying to find a way for Congress to have a role in the Iran deal. Of course, there’s this unanswered question: What will that role be?

Runoff Day in Chicago

It’s Runoff Day in Chicago, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel facing off against Democratic challenger Chuy Garcia. The Chicago Tribune sets the scene. “Election day is the culmination of a six-week runoff campaign spurred by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's failure to capture a majority on Feb. 24. Challenger Jesus "Chuy" Garcia is trying to deny the mayor a second term following a brutal campaign fought on TV and radio, in the mail and in union halls across the city.”

McCain set for re-election

Here’s the exclusive from NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell: “John McCain is ready for a new fight. ‘I have decided to run for re-election,’ the Arizona senator told NBC News in an exclusive interview revealing his plans to pursue a sixth term on Capitol Hill. ‘I'm ready. I am more than ready. In some ways, I am eager.’ McCain is currently 78 years old but will be 80 by Election Day in 2016. He defended his vitality, saying that he is ‘just getting started’ when it comes to his Senate career.” Our take: This re-election fight won’t be easy for McCain, because the most challenging re-election races that senators run are either their first re-election contest or their fourth/fifth. McCain officially announces his re-election bid in Phoenix at 1:30 pm ET.

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