Speaking to a ballroom later, some of the loudest applause for Paul came when he quipped: "If the president has no strategy, maybe it's time for a new president." In an emailed comment, however, Paul elaborated by saying: "If I were President, I would call a joint session of Congress. I would lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily."
A week ago today, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal condemning "interventionists," who are quick to use military force abroad "with little thought to the consequences." Over the course of his 900-word piece, the Republican senator was dismissive of the "hawkish members of my own party."
"A more realistic foreign policy would recognize that there are evil people and tyrannical regimes in this world, but also that America cannot police or solve every problem across the globe," Paul wrote. "Only after recognizing the practical limits of our foreign policy can we pursue policies that are in the best interest of the U.S."
But a few days later, the Republican senator attended the annual summit of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch brothers' main political operation, where Rand Paul took a very different line.
On Wednesday, Paul said he had no use for "interventionists" and the "hawkish members" of his own party who are calling for using force in the Middle East. But just 48 hours later, Paul supports U.S. military intervention abroad to destroy ISIS?
Also keep in mind, less than a month ago, Paul was asked about U.S. airstrikes targeting ISIS targets in Iraq. The senator said he had "mixed feelings" about the offensive. Apparently, those feelings are no longer mixed and Paul is now eager to "destroy ISIS militarily" -- says the senator who complained last week about Hillary Clinton being a "war hawk."
At what point do Rand Paul's loyal followers start to reconsider whether Rand Paul actually agrees with them?
Sarah Smith recently noted that the Kentucky senator has changed his mind about federal aid to Israel, use of domestic drones, immigration, elements of the Civil Rights Act, Guantanamo Bay, and even accepting donations from lawmakers who voted for TARP.
Now, even the basic elements of his approach to using military force are up for grabs.
I suppose a Paul defender might take heart by assuming the senator doesn't actually believe these new policy positions; he's just saying these things to bolster support from centers of power within the Republican Party in advance of a presidential campaign. His genuine beliefs, the argument goes, are the ones he espoused before he started pandering to GOP mega donors.
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.