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After latest reversal, Rand Paul earns the wrong kind of reputation

Rand Paul may not fully appreciate the kind of reputation he's cultivating.
Image: Rand Paul
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., walks to the Senate floor for a vote on the energy bill, at the Capitol in Washington, May 12, 2014.

Mike Pompeo was poised to become the first secretary of state nominee to ever be rejected by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was described as a "hard no" on the nomination, and with every Democrat on the panel also opposed to Pompeo, Donald Trump's choice to lead the State Department was going to suffer a historic embarrassment.

And then Rand Paul pulled a Rand Paul.

Amid several last-minute twists, CIA Director Mike Pompeo was reported favorably to serve as the next secretary of state by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a Monday evening vote.Following the announcement by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., moments before the panel was scheduled to vote that he had reversed his opposition to Pompeo's nomination, the committee voted 11-9 along party lines....

In a series of tweets published yesterday afternoon, the Kentucky Republican said he'd received some "assurances" that Pompeo agrees with Trump about the war in Iraq having been a mistake and on the need to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

Or put another way, Rand Paul heard some meaningless rhetoric from the White House about the hawkish nominee, which was enough for him to abandon his stated principles.

Oddly enough, this is a rare instance in which one of the president's predictions proved true. Just last week, Trump was asked at a White House event if he was concerned about Mike Pompeo's confirmation. "I will say this about Rand Paul: he's never let me down," the president said. "Rand Paul is a very special guy, as far as I'm concerned. He's never let me down. And I don't think he'll let us down again."

And while Trump was no doubt pleased with the GOP senator's latest reversal, it's hard not to wonder if Rand Paul fully appreciates the kind of reputation he's cultivating.

After all, Paul vowed to do "whatever it takes" to stop Pompeo, and then he caved. Similarly, last summer, he voiced all kinds of concerns about the GOP's health care repeal plans, before eventually voting for the final Republican plan anyway. Paul was even briefly critical of his party's regressive tax plan, before he endorsed it.

It's not that Rand Paul never follows through -- he did shut down the government for a few hours in February for no apparent reason -- but he is developing a reputation as a guy who easily folds under minimal pressure. The damage to the senator's credibility is likely to linger.

But just as importantly, Paul doesn't appear to be playing the game especially well. In a 51-49 Senate, it's hard to blame members for some degree of gamesmanship. The whole squeaky-wheel thesis exists for a reason: members send signals that their vote is in doubt, party leaders sweat a bit, and senators then strike some kind of deal, trading their vote for some other priority.

Rand Paul, however, has a habit of reversing course in exchange for effectively nothing. Walking away embarrassed and empty-handed is an unfortunate combination for a politician.