Paul mixes foreign policy, business on the trail


NORTH LIBERTY — When it comes to talking foreign policy while campaigning in Iowa,Sen. Rand Paul has been careful to present himself as a Southern “peace through strength” dove, a stark contrast to his more hawkish rivals for the Republican nomination.

As GOP contenders such as Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio have blanketed discussions about ISIS with such phrases as “We will carpet-bomb them into oblivion” and a simple “They must be defeated,” Paul has taken a more pump-the-brakes approach.

The Kentucky senator favors educating local civilians rather than sending American troops overseas or raining down bombs and missiles on foreign nations from the sky.

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“Ultimately, if you want to defeat this radical aberration of Islam, they’re not going to accept a defeat by Americans, or Christians, or Westerners,” Paul said in an interview with The Daily Iowan this month. “They have to be defeated by people of their same religion and of their same sort of ethnic community over there.”

But with fewer than three weeks until the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, and as he continues to trail five or so Republicans in the polls for his party’s nomination, the 53-year-old is taking a very different page out of his political playbook and pairing it side-by-side with foreign policy to help bridge a gap with voters.

That page? Business, specifically finance.

While a physician by trade, Paul has honed in on a slate of issues since beginning his Senate term in 2010, including reducing the federal debt and cutting Social Security benefits.

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And in recent trips here, he has dished out nitty-gritty economic numbers to crowds.

Several times, such as in an appearance this month in North Liberty, they have turned into his strongest applause lines.

“I’m as pro-defense as anyone in the country,” Paul said at one stop at the North Liberty Community Center before noting that his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, served in the U.S. Air National Guard from 1965 to 1968. “We just don’t think you get stronger for bankruptcy. You have to look what you spend and spend it wisely.”

At that stop, and a similar one in Dubuque later that same day, Paul said the United States has spent more money on the Afghanistan War than on the Marshall Plan following World War II.

And, he said, federal officials have signed off on a $34 million natural-gas station in Afghanistan. In the United States, that project would have cost $500,000, he said.

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Since rolling out his campaign in April, Paul has appeared to be an antiwar libertarian.

“Our voice on the issue of war has been the loudest on either side,” Paul told the DI.

Often, it comes with the hope that young college students will flock to his campaign as they did his father four years ago.

It remains to be seen how Paul’s antiwar stance and new strategy to combine business and foreign policy will play out for him in Iowa. Historically, however, antiwar sentiment has run high.

As a presidential candidate, Ron Paul had dovish foreign-policy views, which has natural appeal to many Democrats.

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If elected, the younger Paul said he would send only U.S. Air Force members to the Middle East.

When it comes to disagreements with foreign dignitaries such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, for Paul, it’s talks over tanks.

“Is Putin a great guy?” he asked the North Liberty audience. “No. But rather than shoot Russia, why don’t we talk to them.”

Over the past several weeks, Paul has also used conversations with Iowans about foreign relations to criticize some of his biggest rivals.

When an audience member at a weekday campaign stop here in the dead of winter asks him how he stacks up against Donald Trump, the Kentucky junior senator grinned from ear to ear.

“For those people who think Donald Trump is a good answer,” Paul said, smiling and looking around, “he has no idea what he’s talking about.”

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After briefly mentioning Trump’s recent performances in GOP presidential debates and his consistent attacks on Middle Eastern countries and Muslims, Paul pivoted, ready to strike at another adversary.

“Think about the [Chris] Christie that stands next to me that says, Yeah, I’ll shoot down Russian planes,” he said, turning to a crowd of roughly 60 people. “Really?”

Paul was referencing Christie’s remarks at the Dec. 15, 2015, debate in Las Vegas. There, the New Jersey governor vowed to shoot down Russian planes flying in the Middle East if they didn’t adhere to a no-fly zone.

Trump, the wealthy New York business mogul turned reality TV star turned Republican hopeful, leads Paul in most state and national polls, after Cruz.

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In the latest Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Poll, Paul is the first-choice favorite of just 5 percent of 500 likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers surveyed. The telephone poll, conducted Jan. 7-10 by West Des Moines-based Selzer & Co., had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

That’s placing was mirrored in a Jan. 8 Fox News Poll, where Paul was also seen as the first-choice of just 5 percent of 504 likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers surveyed. In sixth place among the current GOP field, that’s 22 percentage points behind Cruz and 18 percentage points behind Trump.

That poll, conducted under the direction of Anderson Robbins Research and Shaw & Company Research, was conducted by phone between Jan. 4-7 among 504 likely Republican caucus-goers. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

While some Iowans have given Paul looks of confusion when he talks financial specifics of U.S. foreign spending, others defend the importance.

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While not old enough to caucus on Feb. 1, Mason Kobliska, 15, and Joseph Hoyne, 16, traveled over more than hours for a two-way trip to meet Paul in North Liberty and Dubuque.

“I like him because he makes sense,” Kobliska said after he gave Paul his baseball to take with him on the campaign trail. “It seems he’s the most moral and ethical.”

Paul’s consistent speaking on foreign relations has Hoyne volunteering in the Dubuque area for Paul. If he were 18 on caucus night, he said, Paul would be his top pick, unless former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb decides to pursue an independent run.

Iowans listen to Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul speak at the North Liberty Community Center on Jan. 8. The visit was one of several stops Paul made in Iowa that day. (The Daily Iowan/Sonnie Wooden)

Iowans listen to Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul speak at the North Liberty Community Center on Jan. 8. The visit was one of several stops Paul made in Iowa that day. (The Daily Iowan/Sonnie Wooden)

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