What if Rand Paul is right about foreign policy?

April 30, 2014

Here's the case against Rand Paul's 2016 presidential candidacy in a single line: He's an isolationist in a party still controlled by interventionists when it comes to foreign policy.


Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks during an event at the University of Chicago's Ida Noyes Hall in Chicago on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)

And yet, a new poll out today suggests that dismissing Paul's push to rethink when, where and how the United States involves itself in foreign entanglements is a mistake -- and is missing a broader change in how Americans view our role in the world.

Check out this question in the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, which asked people whether the U.S. should be more or less active in world affairs or whether our involvement should stay roughly the same.

That the percentage of people who want the U.S. to be "less active" in world affairs has quadrupled over the last 13 years is absolutely remarkable -- even when you consider our interventionist tendencies had likely reached a bit of an artificial high in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The party breakdowns on the questions are even more revealing. Nearly half of all Democrats and Republicans (45 percent for each) say that the U.S. should be less active in world affairs.  A whopping six in ten political independents feel that way.

And, the NBC-WSJ poll is not an isolated finding. Back in December, Pew conducted a poll asking people whether they agreed with the statement that the U.S. should "mind its own business" internally.

Pew intervention

Not only did a majority of Americans agree with that sentiment -- up from three in ten in 2002 -- but just 38 percent disagreed with it, the most lopsided edge for "minding its own business" in the nearly five-decade history of the poll.

Combine those two poll findings and it seems quite clear that simply dismissing Paul's views on foreign policy as too outside either the GOP mainstream or the broader electorate's thinking is a major mistake. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan  -- and the fact that a majority of Americans now believe they weren't worth fighting -- has fundamentally re-shaped how most people view the U.S. role in the world. The political establishment -- especially in the Republican party -- look to be behind that curve.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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