By John David Dyche
The Republican Party is sometimes described as a three-legged stool. Economic conservatives are one leg, social conservatives another, and national security conservatives the third.
A GOP presidential candidate needs support from all three constituencies to succeed. Ubiquitous U. S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky already has two in his aggressive undeclared campaign for the 2016 nomination.
Paul's economic credentials are impeccable. He has shown how he would balance the budget and promote growth by cutting federal spending and taxes.
His spirited defense of Apple's tax avoidance techniques against bipartisan demagoguery at a recent hearing really resonated with Republicans. You could almost hear conservatives shout "Huzzah!" as he criticized Congress "for creating a bizarre and Byzantine tax code that runs into the tens of thousands of pages, for creating a tax code that simply doesn't compete with the rest of the world."
Paul is also increasingly popular with social conservatives. A church-going orthodox Christian, he is pro-life and pro-traditional marriage, although he advocates letting states decide such issues instead of the courts or Congress.
A National Review Online article after Paul's recent foray into Iowa said evangelical pastors came away "universally impressed." One commented, "He has a Biblical worldview, as opposed to a secular-humanist worldview, and when you start with that, you really get us listening."
Paul's biggest challenge is on national security. His budget-cutting, civil libertarian, and isolationist stances strike chords with several segments of the Republican base, but others are skeptical of how, or indeed whether, a President Paul would keep America safe in a dangerous world.
For now Paul gets by primarily with generalities, but national defense is the President's primary responsibility. He will eventually have to get specific. Here are some questions that demand answers of any presidential aspirant.
Former CIA director James Woolsey warns that North Korea could soon use a single nuclear warhead detonated above the U.S. to generate an electromagnetic pulse that "would collapse the electric grid and other infrastructure that depends on it—communications, transportation, banking and finance, food and water—necessary to sustain modern civilization and the lives of 300 million Americans." He supports a preemptive strike to prevent that. Do you?
President Obama has said, "Iran's leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon." Is that also your policy? If not, what is?
Does America have a vital national security interest in the Middle East? If so, what is it and how would you protect it? Was President Obama right to order a drone strike to kill U. S. citizen Anwar al-Awaki in Yemen in 2011?
The U. S. has about 175,000 troops stationed overseas, including about 70,000 in Europe, 50,000 in Japan, and 28,500 in Korea. Stars and Stripes recently quoted Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin E. Dempsey as saying, "We have pared that back as far as we reasonably can and still have the influence that we do." Do you agree? If not, would you station any American troops abroad?
Should the U. S. intervene militarily if the People's Republic of China attacks or invades Taiwan? If not, are there any countries the U. S. should intervene to defend from attack by another? What is your standard for determining when the U. S. should intervene?
Last year GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney campaigned on increasing the size of the Navy from 287 deployable battle force ships to 350 at a rate of 15 ships a year. Did you agree with that plan? If not, what size Navy do you support?
News reports suggest President Obama will soon announce a unilateral reduction of U. S. strategic nuclear warheads from about 1,700 to as few as 1,000 weapons as a step toward his goal of a nuclear weapon-free world. Do you support such a reduction? If not, what is your policy on nuclear disarmament?
Paul's popularity is surprising people nationally as it did in Kentucky in 2010. Tackling these tough questions head-on can only enhance his credibility as a serious presidential contender.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.