Cuba Provides a Stark Contrast Between Rand Paul and the 2016 GOP Field

On Thursday, the Kentucky Republican said opening trade with Cuba "is probably a good idea."

In a radio interview Thursday, Sen. Rand Paul took a very different tack from his Republican colleagues in responding to President Obama's decision to reopen diplomatic relations with Cuba.

"In the end, I think opening up Cuba is probably a good idea," Paul told Tom Roten, a radio host in Huntington, W.V.

The full context of Paul's quote:

ROTEN: What are your thoughts on the president's deal here with Cuba? I know Senator Rubio is very critical of that and so have others. What are your thoughts?

PAUL: You know, I grew up in a family that was about as anti-Communist as you could come by. We had people that act had fought against the Bolsheviks back in 1917, were friends of our fam. So we didn't have any love lost for the Communists, and when we first opened up trade with China we were thinking it was a bad idea. But over time, I've come to believe and many conservatives have come to believe that trading with China is the best way to actually, ultimately, defeat Communism, and it makes us less likely to fight. You know, the 50-year embargo with Cuba just hasn't worked. I mean, if the goal was regime change, it sure doesn't seem to be working. And probably it punishes the people more than the regime, because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship. And if there's open trade, I think the people will see what it's like to—all the things that we produce under capitalism. So in the end, I think probably opening up Cuba is a good idea.

ROTEN: So in that respect, you agree with President Obama. Do you agree with the way he's handled it?

PAUL: Well, you know there is some discussion, and we are looking into—you know, some of this is 50-year-old law, so we're looking into exactly what can be done by executive order and what can be done by Congress. And it's my understanding that some of the embargo was done by executive order, so you may be able to undo it by executive order. There are some other things—travel ban and things like that—that I think were done by Congress, and will have to ultimately be addressed by Congress. But the bottom line is even the Cuban community is kind of coming around on this. If you poll or interview younger Cubans, over half of young Cuban-Americans actually are for opening up trade with Cuba. Many of the farmers in our country are for opening it up because, you know, we would have more things. You know, we do such a good job producing food in our country, it would be just one more area that we can sell our food to.

Paul joins fellow Republican Sen. Jeff Flake in supporting the embargo being lifted. Flake was one of three members of Congress—along with Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. Chris Van Hollen—who escorted Alan Gross, the American newly released from Cuban prison, back onto U.S. soil. "It's high time for a change," Flake told CNN on Wednesday. "Fifty years is long enough."

Contrast that with anything Sen. Marco Rubio has said in the past 30 hours. By staking out a more moderate position on Cuba, Paul both distances himself from more hawkish 2016 contenders like Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz, and shows he isn't afraid of jostling the GOP base.

This isn't the first time Paul has exposed himself politically to criticism on a local radio show. In an interview with a New Hampshire radio station in October, Paul called the Ebola virus "incredibly contagious," "very transmissible" and "easy to catch." Politifact rated that statement mostly false, and named it one of the lies of the year.