Rand Paul ramps up his alliance with Trump

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulLame-duck Congress should pass First Step Act Limited Senate access to CIA intelligence is not conspiracy Dems have new moniker for Trump: ‘Unindicted co-conspirator' MORE (R-Ky.) has defended President TrumpDonald John TrumpActivists highlight Trump ties to foreign autocrats in hotel light display Jose Canseco pitches Trump for chief of staff: ‘Worried about you looking more like a Twinkie everyday’ Dershowitz: Mueller's report will contain 'sins' but no 'impeachable offense' MORE on some of his most controversial moves, going against the prevailing sentiment of the libertarian movement with which he and his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), have long been identified.

Some of the most libertarian-leaning members of Congress, such as Sens. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakePence casts tie-breaking vote for Trump appeals court judge Dem: 'Disheartening' that Republicans who 'stepped up' to defend Mueller are leaving Flake: Republican Party ‘is a frog slowly boiling in water’ MORE (R-Ariz.) and Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseCNN to partner with The Des Moines Register on polling ahead of 2020 Iowa caucuses Sasse calls on DOJ to investigate its handling of wealthy sex offender's plea deal Beto O'Rourke seen as a top contender in 2020: poll MORE (R-Neb.), and Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashThe real winner of the 2018 midterms: individual liberty Scarborough rips Graham for saying he’ll introduce legislation to end birthright citizenship: He’s ‘degrading’ himself for Trump GOP lawmaker: Trump 'cannot amend Constitution or laws via executive order' MORE (R-Mich.), have served as forceful critics of Trump within the GOP. But Rand Paul, who prefers the mantle of constitutional conservative to libertarian, has repeatedly offered Trump a stirring defense.

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Paul last week called for the use of lie detector tests to find the identity of a senior administration official who criticized Trump harshly in an anonymous New York Times op-ed, giving support to senior White House aides who have discussed the possibility.

Earlier this summer, Paul was the first prominent voice in Congress to call for Trump to revoke former CIA Director John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanMueller's findings don't matter Brennan shreds Trump: ‘I am relieved that you will never have the opportunity to run for public office again’ CNN given all-clear after bomb threat evacuation MORE’s security clearance, giving the president political cover to do just that. Other Republican senators, such as Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsSenate votes to overturn IRS guidance limiting donor disclosure Trump attorney general pick a prolific donor to GOP candidates, groups: report Lobbying World MORE (Maine) and Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerGOP-controlled Senate breaks with Trump on Saudi vote Senate moves toward vote on ending support for Saudi-led war McConnell urges opposition to bill ending US support for Saudi war MORE (Tenn.), criticized Trump’s decision to pull Brennan’s clearance. 

In July, Paul made headlines by defending Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. He dismissed criticism of Trump’s chummy joint press conference with Putin as “Trump derangement syndrome.”

The forceful defense of Trump has been noticed, with some saying Paul has embraced Trump to help set himself up for another presidential run or to secure pro-Trump voters in Kentucky for his Senate reelection in 2022. Paul ran for the White House in 2016 but saw his support drop quickly after Trump joined the race. 

“When Rand Paul was running for president and Donald Trump got into the race, Trump immediately stole about half of Paul’s base because there are a number of people with that mixture of views, including libertarian, that like Paul and found a certain appeal with Trump,” said Al Cross, a journalism professor at the University of Kentucky and a longtime commentator on Kentucky politics. 

“I suspect Paul is looking down the road,” he added. “He may be hoping to inherit some of those supporters. That’s looking at it from the national lens should he want to run for president in 2020, should Trump not run.”

Paul’s allies argue that Trump holds many positions favored by libertarians, such as skepticism of multilateral alliances, a desire to keep U.S. military forces out of foreign conflicts and a desire to devolve federal power back to the states.

“It’s consistent. When you look at the Helsinki summit, Sen. Paul was expressing the concerns of most libertarians who want to have better relations with Russia, who think that the idea of a summit was a great idea,” said Brian Darling, a former aide to Paul. 

He also noted that Paul’s support for taking away Brennan’s security clearance is not surprising at all, given that Paul famously filibustered his nomination to serve as CIA director in 2013, speaking on the Senate floor for nearly 13 hours in protest. 

But Alvin S. Felzenberg, a presidential historian and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communications, said Paul’s defense of the Helsinki summit was surprising.  

“It’s kind of an odd thing for him to make apologies” for Trump, Felzenberg said. “It’s a tremendous paradox.”

He pointed to Trump’s sympathetic comments about Putin, “who jails journalists and perhaps kills journalists and is curtailing Russian citizens’ freedom of movement and freedom of communication.” 

“For a libertarian senator to favor lie detector tests, surveillance of people working for the government, and the other things he’s called for, I find it a paradox,” Felzenberg added. “Another libertarian is Flake, and he’s not saying any of these things and he came from the Goldwater Institute, which is very libertarian.”

Flake, who is not seeking reelection, has emerged as one of Trump’s most vociferous critics in the Senate GOP conference.

“The vast majority of libertarian scholars, intellectuals, policy analysts and the like view Trump far more negatively than not,” said Ilya Somin, a libertarian thinker and law professor at George Mason University specializing in constitutional law, who noted that Trump’s positions on trade, immigration and nationalism clash with libertarian thought. 

“I think the issue of government spending is also a big one, leading to libertarian hostility or at least skepticism about Trump,” he added.

He also pointed to Trump’s appointment of Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump attorney general pick a prolific donor to GOP candidates, groups: report Press: Mueller closes in on Trump Mueller's findings don't matter MORE, a strong proponent of the federal war on drugs, as attorney general and the president’s “racist and xenophobic rhetoric” and “threats to take action against people who criticize him” as other points of friction with most libertarians. 

Paul’s allies point to the similarities between Trump and Paul on other areas of foreign policy. 

Trump has repeatedly claimed that he opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq and U.S. military intervention in Libya in 2011, although those claims have come under some skeptical scrutiny. Trump also criticized former President Obama’s Syria policy, urging him to focus on fixing America instead of attacking Syrian President Bashar Assad. 

Paul has also long supported cutting U.S. foreign aid to Pakistan, something that the Trump administration did earlier this month. 

Darling, Paul’s former aide, also pointed out that while the senator has defended Trump in high-profile instances, he has often voted contrary to the president. 

A legislative scorecard compiled by FiveThirtyEight.com, a website that specializes in statistical analysis, found that Paul voted with Trump only 74 percent of the time, the lowest percentage of the Senate GOP conference. 

Outside of the daily policy debates that dominate Washington, Trump and Paul have forged a personal friendship. Before Trump ran for president, he helped fund Paul’s first medical mission to Guatemala with a contribution to the University of Utah. 

They have golfed together many times since Trump won the 2016 presidential election. 

“Sen. Rand Paul considers President Trump a personal friend. Their relationship predates either one of them running for the presidency. From increased engagement around the world, to cutting regulations and taxes at home, to ending futile nation-building exercises around the world, they have often found areas of mutual agreement,” said Sergio Gor, Paul’s deputy chief of staff.