MT. PLEASANT, S.C. — Less than a minute into his speech here, Sen. Rand Paul started talking about the consequences of war.
“War is not a game that should not be used for political advantage," Paul said during his first visit as a Republican presidential candidate to this early primary state. "Too many lawmakers in Washington haven’t learned of that lesson."
Paul, who spoke while standing in front of the decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, referenced those who served on the ship. “Is it any wonder that the people who have served in combat are usually more circumspect than those who never fought," he said.
The Kentucky senator seemed to be addressing his comments to the more hawkish elements of the Republican Party and preached calm in the face of war. He faced the delicate task of quelling concerns from the Republican establishment that he is too isolationist in his foreign policy. Instead, Paul worked to portray himself as a president who would be strong on defense but also “wise enough to avoid unnecessary intervention.”
“I think there is no greater responsibility for any legislator or leader than to determine when we go to war,” Paul told the crowd, which included students from the Citadel who attended the event in full uniform. “The consequences are potentially ominous. That responsibility should never be given to any individual who frivolously or cavalierly calls for war.”
The libertarian-leaning candidate is attempting to keep his base of anti-war supporters while appealing to a generally more hawkish GOP electorate.
“I vow to judge questions of war with a solemn and profound deliberation. I will never take the country to war without just cause and constitutional approval of Congress," he declared.
He continued, “As commander in chief, the world will know that our objective is peace. But the world will not mistake our desire for peace for passivity. The world should not mistake our reluctance for war for inaction. And if war should prove unavoidable, America will fight with overwhelming force and we will not relent until victory is ours."
Paul's event on Thursday took place during a particularly tense time in South Carolina. A few days earlier, a white police officer shot and killed an apparently unarmed black man in North Charleston, a city about a 20 minute drive away from Mt. Pleasant. Video that surfaced of the incident appeared to show a substantially different account than the officer originally reported, sparking protests and investigations by the state, FBI, and Justice Department. Paul has made efforts to reach out to minority communities and repeated a line in his stump speech that he sees “an America where criminal justice is applied equally.”
“This message of liberty is for people of all walks of life — the message of liberty, opportunity and justice," he said. "We shouldn’t let the liberals take the word justice, we need to be party of justice. We need to be for all Americans, whether you wear a suit, a uniform, overalls, whether you’re rich or poor white or black. We need to be the party of all Americans.”
Paul, who officially declared his candidacy for president on April 7, continues his five-state campaign swing with visits to Iowa City, Iowa, and then Las Vegas.