When the Republican National Committee passed a resolution last week unequivocally criticizing the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance programs, it was tempting to take it as yet another sign that Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) -- the party’s most prominent critic of hawkish security policy -- is the frontrunner for the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential nomination. As a number of political commentators have pointed out, it does seem that the next Republican presidential primary will be an unusual contest, reflecting a party base at odds with the establishment over major public policy questions, including national security priorities. But contrary to what commentators such as Atlantic contributing editor Peter Beinart and New York magazine writer Frank Rich have recently suggested, that doesn’t mean that the GOP is likely to end up with Paul as its nominee.
It is true that the Republican base and Paul both espouse views that diverge from the policy preferences of the Republican establishment. But it would be a mistake to conclude that those divergences overlap significantly. That is especially true on questions of national security, which Beinart suggests would be one of Paul’s major selling points in a Republican primary. On the surface, it may seem that the anti-interventionist Paul has much in common with a GOP base that is increasingly wary of overseas interventions. But Paul and the Republican base have much more cause to disagree on national security than it seems at first glance.
Consider the foreign policy address Paul delivered at the Center for the National Interest earlier this month. In that speech, Paul bucked the party establishment by citing U.S. President Barack Obama’s diplomatic resolution to Syria’s chemical weapons program as a possible model for dealing with the nuclear weapons programs of Iran and North Korea. He also emphasized the need for a policy of containment rather than preemptive war in dealing with jihadist terrorism and declared that “dialogue is nearly always preferable to war.” The speech was in line