Rand Paul has many going for him in He imatic, a great fundraiser and is working to broaden the GOP’s support beyond its traditional constituencies. But, his greatest weakness some argue, is his foreign policy. Essentially, he is an isolationist in a party still controlled by interventionists. Further, in 2016 he would be likely run against an interventionist in Hilary Clinton.
Those who believe this line of thinking might be wise to rethink it. Buried in a recent NBC/WSJ poll is an interesting finding. The public agrees with Paul’s views. Among registered voters only 19% says the US should be more involved in world affairs while 30% support it staying the same and a whopping 47% arguing the US should step back its role. This contrasts with the public’s views in 1997 when 46% wanted the US to stay at its current level of affairs in the world and only 32% wanted us to scale back our role.
Great, detractors will say. The GOP base is still interventionist. Again, the poll’s findings are revealing. Both 45% of Republicans and Democrats agree the US should scale back its role in US affairs. Among Independents that number jumps to almost 60%. More importantly for Rand’s appeal among Millennials is they are the strongest age demographic to argue the US should step back its role in world affairs.
Pew has conducted its own foreign policy poll question for the last five decades, asking specifically “Should the US mind its own business internationally.” In 2013, the poll found that 52% agreed with the idea and only 38% disagreed. This constitued the largest margin in favor of the US minding its own business in the history of the survey. So there is evidence that the American public does not seem to mind stepping back on the world stage.
No doubt the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have rewired how the public views foreign policy, particularly Millennials. The cost, casualties and the fact a majority do not view the conflicts as worth it should tell Paul and other politicians where the electorate is right now. Yet, many politicians, including President Obama who campaigned on being an isolationist on foreign policy continue to assert an aggressive foreign policy. Might this be the issue a GOP Presidential candidate could court non-traditional GOP voters with?
Regardless, the GOP would be wise to not marginalize Paul’s views. He has supporters in Ted Cruz and Mike Lee who also believe the US should step back or at least reassess its obligations worldwide. Furthermore, simply for the image of the party, leadership would be wise not to dismiss the views of a bloc of voters they need to win by larger margins in Presidential elections.
America has always gone through periods of retrenchment. The aftermath of WWI stands as the most stark example. But the US public eventually comes out of it. What is likely occurring is a period of American retrenchment and that means many things for the world. Politically it means the public sides with Rand Paul.