Corn has broken stories on presidents, politicians, and other Washington players. He's written for numerous publications and is a talk show regular. His best-selling books include Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.
As Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) ponders a presidential bid, he has lately made efforts to wrap himself in the banner of Ronald Reagan. In op-eds and speeches, the libertarian tea partier has increasingly invoked the Republicans' most holy icon, especially after being attacked by members of his party's establishment who have accused him of isolationism. Writing in the Washington Post last week, Paul likened his nuanced approach to foreign policy to what he claimed was Reagan's embrace of "strategic ambiguity." A few days earlier, at a so-called "Freedom Summit" in New Hampshire, Paul hailed Reagan as the last president who presided over the creation of millions of jobs, asserting that after the Gipper lowered tax rates, 20 million jobs were created and "more revenue came in." (FactCheck.org concluded that Paul was "falsifying evidence"—and ignoring that more jobs were created during President Bill Clinton's tenure when tax rates went up.) But Paul hasn't always cast himself as much of a Reagan fan. In fact, when he stumped for his father in 2008 and again when ran for Senate in 2010, Paul often referred to the grand old man of the GOP with a touch of disappointment and criticism. And he routinely made an assertion that might seem like blasphemy to many Republicans: President Jimmy Carter had a better record on fiscal discipline than Reagan.
In a variety of campaign appearances that were captured on video, Paul repeatedly compared Reagan unfavorably to Carter on one of Paul's top policy priorities: government spending. When Paul was a surrogate speaker for his father, then-Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), during the elder Paul's 2008 presidential quest, his sales pitch included dumping on Reagan for failing to rein in federal budget deficits. Standing on the back of a truck and addressing the crowd at the Coalition of New Hampshire Taxpayers picnic in July 2007, Rand Paul complained about Reagan and praised his father for having opposed Reagan's budget:
The deficit went through the roof under Reagan. So how long did it take Ron Paul to figure out that the guy he had liked, endorsed, campaigned for, campaigned for him? The very first [Reagan] budget. Ron Paul voted "no" against the very first Reagan budget… Everybody loved this "great" budget. It was a $100 billion in debt. This was three times greater than Jimmy Carter's worst deficit.
Paul's speech apparently worked. His father won the straw poll held at the picnic, collecting 182 of the 294 votes cast, or 65 percent.
Appearing at a Montana GOP event in January 2008, Paul touted his dad's conservative credentials—remarking that the elder Paul had even voted against gun safety measures backed by the NRA—and pointed out that deficits had mounted under Reagan and President George H.W. Bush: "Domestic spending went up more rapidly in the '80s than it did under Carter." And he took this swipe at Reagan:
You know, we wanted Reagan to veto a budget or to have balanced budgets and he didn't do it. And it wasn't anything personal against him. I think his philosophy was good. I just don't know that he had the energy or the follow-through to get what we needed.
As a Senate candidate the following year, Paul continued to bad-mouth Reagan. Speaking at the University of Kentucky to Students for Liberty that spring, he noted that he and other small-government advocates had "high hopes" for Reagan that were "fairly quickly" dashed. "A lot of the things that we believed would happen didn't," Paul said. He explained:
People want to like Reagan. He's very likable. And what he had to say most of the time was a great message. But the deficits exploded under Reagan. The Democrats said, "Well, the deficit's going up because you reduced the tax rates and supply side economics doesn't work." But the interesting thing is, if you look at the numbers, tax rates went down in the early '80s, tax revenue did rise. The reason the deficits exploded is they ignored spending. Domestic spending went up at a greater clip under Reagan than it did under Carter.
A few weeks earlier, talking to student Republicans at Western Kentucky University, Paul pointed to the dramatic rise in deficit spending under President George W. Bush and declared that Republicans had "become hypocrites" on spending and the deficits. GOPers, he maintained, had not "truly become fiscal conservatives." He added, "We haven't followed through on the message of fiscal conservatism that we said we had." And he traced the problem back to Reagan:
Some say, well that's fine, but there were good old days. We did at one time…When we had Reagan, we were fiscal conservatives. Well, unfortunately, even that wasn't true. When Reagan was elected in 1980, the first bill they passed was called the Gramm-Latta bill of 1981, and Republicans pegged it as this great step forward. Well, Jimmy Carter's last budget was about $34 or $36 billion in debt. Well, it turns out, Reagan's first budget turned out to be $110 billion dollars in debt. And each successive year, the deficit rose throughout Reagan's two terms.
And, he told the students, don't venerate Reagan merely because he was a conservative: "Why did the deficit rise [under Reagan]? Because spending rose more dramatically under Reagan than it did under Carter. Well, you say, 'Reagan's a conservative, Carter's a liberal.' Not necessarily always what it seems."
Speaking two months later to the Carroll County Republican Party, Paul forecasted that economic doom was soon to come—"1979 on steroids"—and advised that "everyone should have a percentage of their savings in gold," noting it was possible that the United States could experience a "complete catastrophe" like the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic. "I would be prepared," Paul said. "There's a coming calamity possibly." Then he turned to a critique of the Republican Party:
As Republicans, it's been very easy for us to say we're fiscally conservative and we're for balanced budgets. It's never happened. We were in charge in the Reagan term, the next Bush's term, this last Bush. The deficits were horrendous under the Republicans…During Reagan's two terms, domestic spending went up faster than Jimmy Carter.
That same month, when he was addressing a gathering of local conservatives in Lexington, Kentucky, Paul contended that being only "a little bit conservative" was not sufficient and that his party, partly because of Reagan, had lost its credibility on fiscal matters:
We live in such bad times that if you don't have somebody who truly believes that we need to take an ax to government, you're not going to get anything done…Even when we elected Reagan. A lot of us loved the rhetoric of Reagan. My dad supported Reagan in 1976 when only four US congressmen would stand up for him. The deficit still exploded…The deficit exploded because domestic spending rose faster under Reagan, so did military, but domestic spending rose faster under Reagan than under Jimmy Carter…We have to admit our failings because we're not going to get new people unless we become believable as a party again.
These days, Paul, who is stuck in a civil war within the GOP over foreign policy issues, is trying to Reaganize himself and demonstrate that he's not outside the Republican mainstream. (His Senate office did not respond to requests for comment.) But not long ago, Reagan was a foil for Paul, who routinely pointed out that the GOP's most revered figure actually had been a letdown. It's no surprise that denigrating Ronald Reagan—and commending Jimmy Carter—is no longer common for Paul. Such libertarian straight talk would hardly help him become one of the successors to the last Republican president who retains heroic stature within the party Paul wants to win over.
UPDATE: After this article was posted, Paul's office sent this statement from the senator: "I have always been and continue to be a great supporter of Ronald Reagan's tax cuts and the millions of jobs they created. Clearly spending during his tenure did not lessen, but he also had to contend with Democrat majorities in Congress."
This past weekend—days after Mother Jones revealed video of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) claiming that Dick Cheney exploited 9/11 to start the Iraq War to boost profits for Halliburton, the military contractor where Cheney had been CEO—Paul claimed in interviews with ABC News and Business Insider that he had never questioned Cheney's motives. He insisted he had merely noted that Cheney's Halliburton ties had posed the "chance for a conflict of interest." Paul was spinning—not acknowledging the actual comments. But when Paul was running for the US Senate in 2009 and 2010 as a tea party outsider who would take on Washington's special-interest lobbyists, he repeatedly cited the Cheney-connected Halliburton as an example of what was wrong in the nation's capital. In a videotaped talk on national-security policy, for example, Paul complained, "We give billion-dollar contracts to Halliburton, they turn around and spend millions on lobbyists to ask for more money from government. It's an endless cycle of special-interest lobbyists." At one campaign stop after another, Paul bashed Halliburton, and he boasted that he had a bold and imaginative plan for limiting the influence of big-money lobbyists and donors who funnel cash into the campaign coffers of candidates to win access and favors. But several years into his first term, Paul has yet to introduce this proposal—or say much, if anything, about it. In fact, he has been accepting contributions from the lobbyists he once so passionately decried.
On March 2, 2010, Paul appeared on CNN, and host Rick Sanchez asked him what he would do about the "unbelievable amounts of money that are being paid from certain industries into the campaign coffers of certain politicians…and how are you going to deal with that, if you get elected?" Without pausing, Paul confidently replied:
I think that I have a cure for it actually that will pass constitutional muster. What I would do is, on every federal contract, I would have a clause, and it says, if you accept this clause you voluntarily give up the right to lobby, you voluntarily give up the right to give PAC contributions. And I would have the top 20 officers sign it also individually, voluntarily give up their right to give [political] contributions…I'm talking about people who do business with the federal government. For example, we have big business that get billion-dollar no-bid contracts with the government. They take their first million dollars, and they buy a lobbyist. The lobbyist goes then and asks for more money. It's a vicious cycle. So I would say if you want to do business with the federal government, what I would say is let's have a clause in the contract, and it's a voluntary clause, you don't have to do business with the government, but if you do, then you give up certain things.
Paul's critique was reminiscent of the position Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) advocated when he was a campaign finance reform firebrand years ago. McCain denounced the "iron triangle" of lobbyists, campaign contributions, and legislation. Paul, who has often slammed McCain for passing a campaign finance law imposing limits on what outside groups can do to affect federal elections, had devised his own way to break up this unseemly triangle.
What explains the horrific shootings in a Kansas suburb that claimed the lives of three people? Searching for an answer, I called a jail in Stanton, North Dakota, the temporary residence of Craig Cobb, a white nationalist whom Frazier Glenn Miller, the suspect in these attacks, called a friend during a 2010 radio interview. Cobb, 62, has been locked up for months after being arrested for terrorizing residents of a small town that he was trying to turn into an all-white enclave; he and a buddy had been patrolling the streets brandishing weapons. (Last year, he earned a few minutes of fame when a DNA test indicated that Cobb, who believes Jews have orchestrated the "genocidal collapse" of the white race, was 14 percent black.)
I couldn't reach Cobb directly, but he soon called me back—collect—and was eager to discuss Miller, who was a former grand dragon of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and a founder of the White Patriot Party. Cobb says that he had only met Miller once in person, but that the two had for years been associates via online bulletin boards and forums, that they spoke on the phone once or twice a week, and that he thinks of Miller, 73, as an older brother or father figure. During their most recent call, which happened at the end of last week, Miller seemed upbeat to Cobb—more upbeat than usual. Miller had mentioned that he had weekend plans to get together with friends for barbecue and beer. Cobb says Miller mentioned nothing indicating he might go on a shooting rampage.
As the intra-party feud between the Cheney/neocon crew of the GOP and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and his fellow intervention skeptics continues, here's another dicey matter for the warring parties to battle over: torture. The Cheney crowd fervently defends the Bush administration's use of harsh interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding, and fiercely rejects referring to these tactics as torture. But in a 2009 interview posted on YouTube, Rand Paul denounced such practices as torture and said, "Bush had given these orders that allowed torture to occur." Paul, though, noted that he was not in favor of prosecuting Bush or former vice president Dick Cheney, comparing the question of whether to put them on trial for torture to the case of President Gerald Ford pardoning the disgraced former President Richard Nixon. And in another 2009 interview, Paul called on the GOP to disassociate itself from Cheney because the ex-veep was defending his administration's use of torture.
The Cheney-Paul clash, reflecting the sharp divide within the GOP between hawks and those who question the party's traditional support of aggressive military intervention, has intensified in recent weeks. Speaking at a private meeting of Republican funders and activists in Las Vegas on March 29, Cheney warned that there was "an increasing strain of isolationism" within the GOP, and he slammed the less hawkish members of his party. He didn't name names, but the message was clear: He meant Rand Paul, among others. (At that gathering, Cheney also approvingly talked about bombing Iran.) And several days later, after Mother Jones revealed that in 2008 and 2009 Paul had accused Cheney of exploiting 9/11 to start the Iraq war to benefit Halliburton, the military contractor where Cheney had once been CEO, the former vice president's allies attacked Paul. His daughter, Liz Cheney, said, "It's not surprising since Senator Paul often seems to get his foreign policy talking points from Rachel Maddow." John Bolton, a hawk's hawk who served as UN ambassador during the Bush-Cheney administration, emailed a conservative columnist, "Senator Paul should repudiate his remarks and apologize to Vice President Cheney."
Last week, continuing the sometimes catty intraparty feud between Republican hawks and GOPers skeptical of foreign intervention, former Vice President Dick Cheney took a shot at Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). But Paul is not likely to be fazed by criticism from Cheney, for several years ago the Kentucky senator was pushing the conspiratorial notion that the former VP exploited the horrific 9/11 attacks to lead the nation into war in Iraq in order to benefit Halliburton, the enormous military contractor where Cheney had once been CEO.
Speaking at a private Las Vegas gathering of Republican funders and activists on March 29, Cheney blasted what he termed isolationists within the GOP. "One of the things that concerns me first about the  campaign, that I'm worried about," Cheney said, "is what I sense to be an increasing strain of isolationism, if I can put it in those terms, in our own party." He didn't name names, but he didn't have to—at least, in one case. He obviously had Rand Paul in mind. And Cheney, who also approvingly talked about bombing Iran, chided the unmentioned Paul and other less hawkish GOPers for having not learned the supposed lessons of 9/11.
Cheney's remarks were the latest round in the tussle between the Republican Party's hawks and intervention skeptics. A year ago, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) referred to Paul, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), and other Republicans unenthusiastic about drone strikes as "wacko birds."
But years before this dustup began, Paul was on the attack against Cheney. In not widely noticed appearances on the campaign trail, Paul claimed that Cheney's advocacy of the invasion of Iraq was partly nefarious and predicated on corporate self-interest, not national security priorities.
On April 7, 2009, as Paul was on the cusp of announcing his senatorial bid, he spoke to student Republicans at Western Kentucky University. Recalling President Dwight Eisenhower's warning about the military-industrial complex, he noted, "We need to be fearful of companies that get so big that they can actually be directing policy." And the company he had in mind was Cheney's former home: "When the Iraq War started, Halliburton got a billion-dollar no-bid contract. Some of the stuff has been so shoddy and so sloppy that our soldiers are over there dying in the shower from electrocution. I mean, it shouldn't be sloppy work; it shouldn't be bad procurement process. But it really shouldn't be that these people are so powerful that they direct even policy."
Paul then indicated to the students that he believed that Cheney had used 9/11 as an excuse to launch the Iraq War to serve Halliburton's interests.
There's a great YouTube of Dick Cheney in 1995 defending [President] Bush No. 1 [and the decision not to invade Baghdad in the first Gulf War], and he goes on for about five minutes. He's being interviewed, I think, by the American Enterprise Institute, and he says it would be a disaster, it would be vastly expensive, it'd be civil war, we would have no exit strategy. He goes on and on for five minutes. Dick Cheney saying it would be a bad idea. And that's why the first Bush didn't go into Baghdad. Dick Cheney then goes to work for Halliburton. Makes hundreds of millions of dollars, their CEO. Next thing you know, he's back in government and it's a good idea to go into Iraq.
The day after 9/11, [CIA chief] George Tenet is going in the [White] House and [Pentagon adviser] Richard Perle is coming out of the White House. And George Tenet should know more about intelligence than anybody in the world, and the first thing Richard Perle says to him on the way out is, "We've got it, now we can go into Iraq." And George Tenet, who supposedly knows as much intelligence as anybody in the White House says, "Well, don't we need to know that they have some connection to 9/11?" And, he [Perle] says, "It doesn't matter." It became an excuse. 9/11 became an excuse for a war they already wanted in Iraq.
Critics of President George W. Bush and Cheney have long assailed the pair for pushing a WMD-centered case for war that was false and questioned their reasons and motives for invading Iraq. But it's notable that a member of the Senate who might be a leading contender for the GOP's 2016 presidential nomination thinks that the most recent Republican vice president snookered the nation into war to boost profits for a company he once steered.
Paul's dark remarks about Cheney to those college Republicans were not a one-off event. At a Republican rally in Montana during the 2008 presidential campaign when Paul was speaking for his father (who was then running for president), he raised the same points. He told the crowd that there had been "no link" between 9/11 and Iraq and cited this "great YouTube clip that everyone should look up." He described the video and explained its meaning:
It's Dick Cheney in 1995* being interviewed on why they didn't go into Baghdad the first time under the first [President] George Bush. And his arguments are exactly mirroring my dad's arguments for why we shouldn't have gone in this time. It would be chaos. There'd be a civil war. There'd be no exit strategy. And cost a blue bloody fortune in both lives and treasure. And this is Dick Cheney saying this. But, you know, a couple hundred million dollars later Dick Cheney earns from Halliburton, he comes back into government. Now Halliburton's got a billion-dollar no-bid contract in Iraq. You know, you hate to be so cynical that you think some of these corporations are able to influence policy, but I think sometimes they are. Most of the people on these [congressional] committees have a million dollars in their bank account all from different military-industrial contractors. We don't want our defense to be defined by people who make money off of the weapons.
The message is clear: Cheney, a corporate shill, was more loyal to Halliburton—and the millions of dollars he earned from the company—than to the United States, and he and Halliburton manipulated the country into the Iraq War. Paul was essentially accusing Cheney of a profound betrayal: using 9/11 to start a war to profit Halliburton.
This is a harsh charge—and in these videos, Paul seems to believe it fully. He has, though, not spoken in such terms of late. (His Senate office did not respond to a request for comment.) In a recent speech on foreign policy, Paul talked about the value of "containment" and "engagement" and assailed the Cheney wing of the party—without naming the ex-veep—by decrying neocons for promoting a "neo-isolationism, in which diplomacy is distrusted and war is, if not the first choice, the preferred option." Yet his previous accusations about Cheney, 9/11, and Iraq could well provide rich material for questions in presidential debates, should Paul run in 2016. The remarks illustrate just how sharp the divide is between Paul and the GOP establishment on foreign policy and suggest the bad blood runs deep, very deep.
Update: A reader alerted us to what may have been the clip of Dick Cheney that Paul referred to. View it here.
Update II: But that clip was dated 1992. Another reader pointed to this clip, which captured a slice of an interview conducted with Cheney at the American Enterprise Institute in 1994, which is closer to the year (1995) Paul cited.