Rand Paul Stands Apart in His Pitch for Koch Brothers Cash

The Kentucky Republican broke with Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in one of the first 2016 forums Sunday night.

Jan. 26, 2015, 3:57 a.m.

Three Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial hope­fuls talked policy Sunday night at a pan­el sponsored by a group af­fil­i­ated with the Koch broth­ers in hopes of win­ning over the in­flu­en­tial bil­lion­aires’ net­work of mega-donors. And while Sens. Marco Ru­bio of Flor­ida and Ted Cruz of Texas seemed eager for ap­prov­al from the in­flu­en­tial audi­ence, Ken­tucky Sen. Rand Paul clashed with his col­leagues on es­tab­lished GOP lines.

The pan­el, hos­ted by the Kochs’ Free­dom Part­ners Cham­ber of Com­merce in Palm Springs, Cal­if., and broad­cast on­line in a show of trans­par­ency, offered a chance for the likely 2016ers, all first-term sen­at­ors, to pub­licly vie for the far-reach­ing net­work’s ap­prov­al. Mark­ing one of the first face-to-face for­ums in the con­test, it gave a glimpse of the policy ten­sions that will arise if all three sen­at­ors run.

For a pres­id­en­tial hope­ful court­ing big-money donors, Rand Paul didn’t seem too eager to please, fre­quently be­ing greeted with awk­ward si­lence by the crowd while Ru­bio and Cruz saw ap­plause.

He broke with his col­leagues on Cuba, not­ing to the pan­el’s mod­er­at­or, ABC’s Jonath­an Karl, that, sit­ting between Cruz and Ru­bio, whose par­ents both emig­rated from the coun­try, “I’m kind of sur­roun­ded on this one.” Call­ing his op­pon­ents’ views isol­a­tion­ist, he said he sup­por­ted Pres­id­ent Obama’s re­cent ac­tions to thaw re­la­tions between the U.S. and Cuba.

“They be­head people in the street in Saudi Ar­a­bia. I’m not a real big fan of a lot of these re­gimes, but I don’t want to isol­ate ourselves and say we’re not go­ing to trade with people who aren’t West­ern style demo­cra­cies,” Paul said. “Isol­a­tion hasn’t worked.”

Cruz, whose fath­er left the is­land na­tion in 1957, has been an out­spoken crit­ic of Obama’s shift on Cuba.

“This deal will keep the Castros in power, and it makes it less likely that when Fi­del and Raul die, they will move to a free so­ci­ety,” he told the audi­ence Sunday night. “We want a free ally, not a hos­tile Com­mun­ist coun­try 90 miles from our shore try­ing to un­der­mine Amer­ica.”

Paul calmly fired back: “Maybe, maybe not.”

Re­veal­ing vestiges of his liber­tari­an up­bring­ing, he also ad­voc­ated a markedly dif­fer­ent ap­proach to deal­ing with Ir­an. Ar­guing for ne­go­ti­ations over the coun­try’s nuc­le­ar cap­ab­il­it­ies, he said the U.S. “should give dip­lomacy a chance.”

His col­leagues bristled. Claim­ing that Ir­an’s lead­ers are “rad­ic­al re­li­gious Is­lam­ic nut­cases,” Cruz said that talks with the coun­try were the worst “in the his­tory of man­kind.” And Ru­bio in­sisted they “use ne­go­ti­ations as a tac­tic.”

“At this pace, in five years, we’re go­ing to build the bomb for them,” he said.

Break­ing with pre­vail­ing Re­pub­lic­an opin­ion, Paul was the lone mem­ber of the trio to ar­gue for de­creased de­fense spend­ing. The Pentagon’s “ci­vil­ian bur­eau­cracy,” he said, takes away from real de­fense meas­ures.

“The most im­port­ant thing I would spend money on is de­fend­ing the coun­try,” he said. “That be­ing said, I’m not for a blank check. That be­ing said, I’m for audit­ing the Pentagon.”

Ru­bio, who has been pol­ish­ing his na­tion­al se­cur­ity cre­den­tials as a basis for a 2016 bid, agreed that there is waste in the de­fense budget. But he said the gov­ern­ment doesn’t spend too much money on na­tion­al de­fense, point­ing in­stead to a more prac­ticed GOP tar­get of ex­tra­vag­ance: en­ti­tle­ment pro­grams.

“That’s the reas­on for our long-term debt,” he said. “We are not in a debt crisis be­cause of de­fense spend­ing.”

While Paul ap­peared un­ruffled by the audi­ence’s si­lent re­cep­tion to his di­ver­gent views, both Cruz and Ru­bio sought to curry fa­vor with the in­flu­en­tial crowd — whom Cruz called “pat­ri­ots.” The Texas sen­at­or in par­tic­u­lar laid on ob­sequious praise for the Kochs, who he said have “en­dured vili­fic­a­tion with equan­im­ity and grace.”

“There are a bunch of Demo­crats that have taken as their talk­ing point that the Koch broth­ers are the nex­us of all evil in the world,” Cruz said. “Let me be very clear: I think that is grot­esque and of­fens­ive.”

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