This Is How Rand Paul Is Trying to Win Over the Right on Foreign Policy

The Kentucky Republican's policies toward Israel may not have changed much. But his rhetoric has.

Sen. Rand Paul speaks at the Berkeley Forum on the UC Berkeley campus on March 19, 2014 in Berkeley, California.  (National Journal)

Sen. Rand Paul has a new an op-ed in the National Review calling for increased U.S. support for Israel, and giving grist to the idea that he is an inevitable 2016 candidate.

If he is indeed planning to run for president in 2016, the column gives us a good preview of the rhetoric he'll use to try to win over conservatives.

Paul's National Review piece is centered on the three Israeli teenagers who were found dead on Monday after disappearing on June 12. The Israeli government has held the terrorist group Hamas accountable for the kidnappings and murders, but Hamas has denied responsibility.

In his column, the senator known for having an isolationist streak strengthened his rhetoric on Israel:

I think it is clear by now: Israel has shown remarkable restraint. It possesses a military with clear superiority over that of its Palestinian neighbors, yet it does not respond to threat after threat, provocation after provocation, with the type of force that would decisively end their conflict.

As Lucia Graves at National Journal presciently wrote in May, Paul has visibly "evolved" on Israel — or at least his rhetoric has — since he became a senator. In 2011, shortly after being sworn in, Paul called for the U.S. to cut off aid to Israel entirely.

"I think they're an important ally, but I also think that their per capita income is greater than probably three-fourths of the rest of the world," Paul told ABC then. "Should we be giving free money or welfare to a wealthy nation? I don't think so."

That's Paul's conundrum: At heart, he's a deficit hawk. But to win over conservative voters he must masquerade as a defense hawk.

Paul's change in tone may be ideological, but it's also pragmatic. In March, Republican presidential hopefuls — not including Paul — met with the casino owner and GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson in Las Vegas. The weekend was informally called the "Adelson primary," and attracted rumored candidates such as Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and John Kasich.

Adelson, 80, is the eighth-richest person in the world, and is staunchly pro-Israel. In the two days after the Las Vegas meeting, he personally made $2.1 billion — 21 times more than the amount he donated in the 2012 election. An aide to Paul told The Atlantic he'd been invited to the Sheldon primary, but had to decline because of personal commitments.

Since that fateful weekend, Paul has been beefing up his Israel bona fides. In May, he introduced the Stand With Israel Act, which would cut off U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority until it formally recognizes the state of Israel. The bill hasn't moved in the Senate yet, and Paul is trying to give it another boost with his new op-ed. Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the top pro-Israel lobbying shop in the country, has said it won't support Paul's bill.

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Paul's latest proposals are not so different from those of the noninterventionist Paul we've seen in years past. He's not requesting the U.S. airdrop troops onto the West Bank, or even any additional U.S. involvement. The difference is that now, he's wrapping his proposals in more hawkish language, basically calling on Israel to take Hamas out.

"Some say my position is too hard-line, too strong," Paul wrote on Tuesday. But it's hard to imagine which hypothetical people have accused Paul of taking too hard a line on Israel ... yet.