Just weeks before announcing his 2016 presidential bid, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is completing an about-face on a longstanding pledge to curb the growth in defense spending. In an olive branch to defense hawks hell-bent on curtailing his White House ambitions, the libertarian Senator introduced a budget amendment late Wednesday calling for a nearly $190 billion infusion to the defense budget over the next two years -- a roughly 16 percent increase.
In his first year in public office, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) unveiled the outline of his own budget plan, which reflected his rather unique worldview. In his 2011 blueprint, the Kentucky Republican didn't just slash domestic spending -- a staple of every GOP plan -- Paul also went after military spending, slashing investments in the Pentagon and U.S. military missions abroad.
The plan wasn't surprising. No matter what one thinks of Rand Paul, he's made no real effort to hide his libertarian-ish worldview and his opposition to Republican orthodoxy on the use of military force. The senator's plan to cut defense spending was unusual among his GOP brethren, but it was consistent with everything we know about Rand Paul.
It's what makes this new report from Time magazine that much more striking.
The article describes Paul's new posture as a "stunning reversal," which is more than fair, and notes that his proposal matches a similar plan from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) -- a likely White House rival and an aggressive Republican hawk on defense issues.
This radical departure from the principles Paul used to hold dear was not at all expected. On the contrary, the Kentucky senator used to say his break with GOP orthodoxy on matters of national security was a selling point.
But that was before Rand Paul concluded that his principles might get in the way of his ambitions -- which meant many of his principles had to be cast aside.
If the metamorphosis were limited to the Pentagon budget, this alone would represent a dramatic reinvention for the unannounced candidate. But the new Paul disagrees with the old Paul on the use of military force against ISIS, too.
In fact, over the last year or so, the Kentucky Republican has changed his mind about federal aid to Israel, use of domestic drones, immigration, elements of the Civil Rights Act, and Guantanamo Bay, among other things.
What's more, let's also not forget that Paul signed the letter to Iran, intended to make war more likely, in violation of his own principles.
Even his libertarian principles are no longer looking particularly libertarian -- he recently told Fox News that marriages between same-sex couples "offend" him "and a lot of other people."
As we discussed last fall, I suspect some Paul defenders may choose to assume that the senator doesn't actually believe these new policy positions; he's just saying these things to bolster his national ambitions. His genuine beliefs, the argument goes, are the ones he espoused before he started pandering to Republican mega donors, interest groups, and centers of GOP power.
But if that is the argument, it's cold comfort. For one thing, once a politician replaces his fundamental beliefs with a more palatable worldview, it's hard to know which version is the "real" one. For another, the "don't worry, he's lying" defense just never seems to resonate with a broad spectrum of voters.