For weeks, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) seemed certain to vote against CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be the next secretary of state. He vocally disputed Pompeo’s views during Foreign Relations Committee hearings. He had voted against Pompeo for CIA director. His personal brand is built in part on breaking with GOP orthodoxy. But on Monday, with Pompeo one vote short of a favorable recommendation from the committee, Paul flipped to “yes.” His capitulation shows just how thoroughly Trumpism has destroyed what principles Republicans had left.
Paul is hardly the first GOP holdout to cave to the Trump administration for a pittance in return. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), for one, voted for the GOP’s tax bill in December after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pledged to pass a bill shoring up Obamacare exchanges. And Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) voted for that bill after McConnell and the White House pledged to negotiate on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Neither promise has been kept.
Like Collins and Flake, Paul received almost nothing by caving on Pompeo, despite having had maximum leverage. He didn’t get promised legislation or even a seat at negotiations: He just got “assurances” that Trump and Pompeo oppose further U.S. military interventions. And if you believe for a second that either Pompeo (a committed warmonger) or Trump (a committed liar) means to keep his word, or that Paul believes they will, I have some oceanfront property in Arizona to sell you.
In many ways, Paul looks even more spineless than his colleagues. There was no cost in this case to him sticking to his guns. First, the committee vote did not matter in terms of getting Pompeo confirmed: A committee vote against recommendation might look bad for the White House, but Pompeo would still have gotten a vote of the full Senate. With Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.) already on record as supporting the CIA director, Pompeo had the votes needed even without Paul’s support.
Second, Paul has a track record of bucking the Republican Party. He won his 2010 primary in defiance of the party establishment. While other Republicans criticized President Barack Obama for being too soft on terrorism, Paul often stood up for civil liberties. Yet Kentucky voters accepted his political heresies: In his first reelection campaign, he cruised through the GOP primary and increased his margin of victory in the general election. He has voted against the Trump administration far more than any other Republican senator, and he hasn’t seemed to have any qualms about it — until, this time, his vote became the deciding one.
Given these circumstances, there was no reason for Paul not to vote as he claims to believe — unless principle was less important than not embarrassing the president. All the ingredients were there for a Republican to take a stand: an iconoclastic reputation, a complete lack of stakes and a clear difference in message between voting yes and voting no. Yet instead, Paul, like the more moderate Collins and more establishment Flake, folded — a final confirmation that no Republican’s so-called principles will withstand the president.