Rand Paul Signals, As President, He Would ‘Stand Up To’ U.S. Defense Sector

Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul wonders why President Obama is, as he sees it, unwilling to "stand up to" the "military-industrial complex." (Richard Ellis/Getty Images)

The field for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination is slowly beginning to take shape. Just like every other sector of the U.S. economy, the defense sector is wondering which potential candidate would, as budgeteer in chief, be best for business.

There are signs New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is mulling a run, as well as U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. The same is true for the party’s 2008 vice presidential nominee, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. And there’s scuttlebutt about former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Some defense insiders say establishment Republicans and moderate Democrats from states with big military and defense sector footprints are the defense sector’s best bets.

Tea party Republicans in the U.S. House — most with a zeal for a smaller federal government that spends much less annually — have on several occasions formed a bloc willing to vote in favor of Pentagon budget cuts. Since 2010, these new-age GOP members have joined liberal Democrats in supporting fewer dollars for defense, and late last month did the same to almost kill an amendment that could have severely hindered an NSA anti-terrorism surveillance program.

Senators of the tea party ilk have been a bit more coy, as senators tend to be, about their visions for Pentagon spending if they were to become president.

But a defense-sector CEO who’s paying attention might feel a need to beware of Rand Paul. Several recent comments reveal why.

Here’s what Paul told me in late July, when I asked him about Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s plan to shrink OSD, Joint Staff and combatant commander workforces by 20 percent each:

“There is plenty of room for savings in the Pentagon. And if he can find savings that doesn’t hurt readiness, I’m all for it. … The overall Pentagon budget has some room for savings.”

That’s not the scariest remark ever uttered about cutting defense spending, to be fair. But last week, Paul was less subtle while speaking on the Senate floor during a diatribe in which he, among other things, voiced opposition to Washington’s long habit of sending American-made weapons to nations like Egypt:

“The President promised us hope and change, but the more he claims that things change, I think the more they stay the same. I wanted to believe the President would be different. I wanted to believe he would bring change.”

(That’s a standard GOP attack line on President Obama. Here comes one that likely will cause a little heartburn in Rosslyn, Crystal City, Tysons Corner and some Capitol Hill offices…)

I wanted to believe he would stand up to the arms race, to the ‘military industrial complex,’ that he would stop the flow of arms to despots and dictators across the planet. But hope and change just turned out to be a slogan. In Detroit and in Chicago and in the once great cities of America, no change came. Hope and change was just a slogan. The poverty, the murders, the abysmal schools, they continue.

“Where are you, Mr. President? In our hour of need in our country, why are you sending our money to people who hate us? Why are you sending arms to countries that don’t like us or our allies?”

Paul also sounded off about the business of going to war, from which the U.S. weapons-manufacturing and support service sectors greatly benefit. More heartburn:

“[Obama] insists on fighting new wars, secretly, without congressional approval, in Libya and Syria. While Detroit decays and descends into bankruptcy, the president, as did so many Republicans before him, continues to send American tax dollars overseas to countries that persecute and kill Christians. Hope and change — I guess it was just a slogan.”

The implications within those comments are as clear as a cloudless sky on a summer day from the upper floors of a Northern Virginia office building: President Paul would slash the defense budget, would be skeptical of the “military-industrial complex,” and would be unlikely to plunge America into global conflicts.

Many in Washington still view Paul as a fringe candidate who will be unable to capture the support of enough moderate Republican voters to capture the nomination. And that just might be the case. We’ll find out once — if — he’s thrown into the pressure cooker of a national campaign.

Polling data shows, over three years from Election Day, American voters see him as a serious candidate. Our friends at RealClearPolitics.com recently averaged four prominent polls of likely voters. Paul was favored by 12.3 percent of those surveyed, trailing only Christie (15.8 percent) and Ryan (15 percent).

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett