WASHINGTON (AP) – Senator Rand Paul certainly has his differences with President Donald Trump, a one-time rival for the White House. But on one cornerstone issue, a resistance to U.S. intervention abroad, they are simpatico.
Both Trump and the Kentucky senator are inclined to dispense with the traditional U.S. role as the world’s top cop. It’s a view held by few others in Washington, and a key reason Paul has nurtured a close relationship with the president and defended him from criticism after the Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And as Trump’s tweets show, it’s paying off.
"Some people HATE the fact that I got along well with President Putin of Russia," Trump tweeted early Wednesday. "They would rather go to war than see this. It’s called Trump Derangement Syndrome!"
Paul wouldn’t have said it any differently. In fact, he didn’t.
Trump’s tweet mirrored, almost word for word, the lines the Paul has been using to defend the president’s performance at the summit.
The senator scoffed at Trump’s critics and backed the Putin meeting as important for the U.S. to continue dialogue with its adversaries and avoid future wars.
"They’re making a big mistake," Paul told The Associated Press on Monday, dismissing critics as those who hate the president. "It’s Trump derangement syndrome."
Paul and Trump spoke again Tuesday afternoon, just before the president publicly reversed course on whether Russia interfered in the 2016 elections.
The libertarian-leaning senator has long been in the minority of the GOP when it comes to national security issues. He largely opposes robust military spending and led opposition to continuing the government’s post-Sept. 11 surveillance programs. He staged a 13-hour filibuster against John Brennan’s nomination as CIA director in 2013 over the government’s use of aerial drones.
Last week, it was Paul and just one other senator, Mike Lee of Utah, voting against the Senate’s bipartisan resolution backing NATO on the eve of Trump’s trip to visit with members of the alliance.
Republican foreign policy leaders have dismissed Paul’s views. Sen. John McCain of Arizona once called Paul’s wing of the party the "wacko birds," though he later apologized.
Paul dismissed his critics, telling the AP that McCain’s views have been so reactionary "they should be laughed out of polite society."
In Trump, Paul has found an ally who shares his instinct for keeping the United States out of costly overseas interventions and may be the only Republican who could push the party in that direction. It’s a relationship Paul has welcomed – golfing with the president, chatting on the phone – through public and private actions. They’ve become friends.
The senator was the most prominent – and lonely – voice this week defending Trump’s performance in Helsinki in a flurry of interviews on cable TV.
"Thank you RandPaul," Trump tweeted Tuesday.
Paul has been touting his own upcoming trip to Russia, which an aide said was planned before the Trump summit, to promote cultural exchanges as a way to foster relations between the countries. He’s also available for "any potential follow-ups" from Trump’s visit, said Paul’s deputy chief of staff, Sergio Gor. "He’s ready and willing to assist the President."
Yes, Russia interfered in the election, Paul acknowledged, but he said the U.S. routinely tries to influence campaigns around the world. He warned against the interventionist foreign policy approach that dominates both parties.
"There has to be some voice that doesn’t want war," Paul said. "I want a voice that talks about engagement."