How 2009 Rand Paul will sabotage 2016 Rand Paul

The would-be presidential contender has a long history of kooky associations and unconventional ideas

Published April 7, 2014 8:19PM (EDT)

Rand Paul                 (Jeff Malet,
Rand Paul (Jeff Malet,

So here's Rand Paul, in 2009, arguing that Dick Cheney used 9/11 as an excuse to invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein so that Halliburton, a contractor he was an executive at prior to his election as vice president, could profit. "9/11 became an excuse for a war they already wanted in Iraq," Paul says, of Cheney and Bush administration officials like Richard Perle.

The video of Paul's remarks comes from a story in Mother Jones by David Corn, suggesting that someone is trying to make Paul look like a kook. While this theory of the Iraq War isn't exactly uncommon on the left, it is not the sort of thing "mainstream" Republicans believe or say. Paul is still much less hawkish than most Washington Republicans, but he has spent much of his time in the Senate attempting to make himself acceptable to Republican elites, presumably in advance of the presidential campaign. But conservative foreign policy types are never going to embrace someone who was saying this sort of thing just a few years ago. If Rand Paul actually is running for president, he ought to get used to seeing YouTube clips like this one turn up in strange places.

Rand Paul has turned out to be a more talented politician than he seemed in 2009 and 2010, when he was still green enough to do things like unambiguously state his opinion on the Civil Rights Act. He's polished enough now that he's commonly referred to as a 2016 front-runner. But his background is full of unseemly associations and dumb public statements -- that's a given for anyone who came up in the world of Ron Paul. Dave Weigel's recent piece on the shady direct mail network that funded Paul's political operation is a good example of the sorts of things that will cause headaches for Rand Paul in a campaign with the full attention of the national press. And he hasn't quite put all of this behind him: Even in 2012, Rand was repeating historical theories from fringe-y paleoconservative thinkers.

Even if Rand Paul can escape blame for his father's controversies -- like, say, the whole racist newsletter thing -- there's still plenty of material in his own history. There is, for example, his long history with toxic conspiracy maven Alex Jones. In a 2013 clip that I'm sure Rand Paul's staff was thrilled to see, Jones said he's known Rand Paul for 15 years, and that Paul will "probably end up being president" unless he's defeated by "the electronic voting machine fraud." And we haven't even gotten to "The Southern Avenger."

For the last few years, Paul has enjoyed generally soft press coverage, because the political press loves a renegade Republican. But Republican hawks aren't going to let him anywhere near the nomination, and they'll spend the next two years digging up every slightly controversial thing he ever said to stop him.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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2016 Elections Dick Cheney Foreign Policy Halliburton Iraq War Libertarianism Rand Paul Republican Party Video