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Kentucky senator Rand Paul is a curious vehicle for reformation of the Republican Party. He’s not a font of creative ideas; he’s hobbled by intellectual contradictions; he’s viewed skeptically by his party’s establishment. Still, Paul brings a refreshing view of the limits of warfare to a GOP that has spent the last several decades enthusiastically embracing military interventions across the globe.

So here’s to the senator’s efforts to help his party lay down its battle armor and beat its swords into plowshares. The country needs no more Dick Cheneys and far fewer John McCains.

Paul won’t easily transform the Republican Party’s views on military might. Earlier this month, Texas governor Rick Perry wrote an opinion essay criticizing him as “curiously blind” to the threat represented by international jihadists. “Viewed together, Obama’s policies have certainly led us to this dangerous point in Iraq and Syria, but Paul’s brand of isolationism (or whatever term he prefers) would compound the threat of terrorism even further,” Perry wrote in The Washington Post.

As much as anything, that’s a sign that Perry is considering once again seeking the GOP nomination for president and sees Paul as a significant rival. One way to knock off Paul, Perry believes, is to play to the GOP’s armchair hawks, who haven’t tired of sending other people’s sons and daughters to war.

Paul immediately fought back with an op-ed of his own, published in Washington-based Politico. “Unlike Perry, I oppose sending American troops back into Iraq. After a decade of the United States training Iraq’s military, when confronted by the enemy, the Iraqis dropped their weapons, shed their uniforms and hid. Our soldiers’ hard work and sacrifice should be worth more than that,” he wrote.

While Paul’s views are closer to those of the American people, there is still a significant partisan divide — a challenge for the senator. Half of Americans now say the invasion of Iraq was a mistake, while only 38 percent say it was the right decision, according to the Pew Research Center. (The rest are undecided.) But a closer look at polling shows that 52 percent of Republicans still believe toppling Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do.

That may simply reflect the reluctance of Republican voters to admit the failings of the most recent Republican president, George W. Bush. And GOP leaders know there is a lot of political fodder in knocking President Obama’s foreign policy, even if few of them present alternatives. They denounce the president’s international leadership as feckless, weak and naive — red-meat rhetoric that fires up the base.

That means Paul will have to be not only smart but also courageous if he is to help his party find a more reasonable response to a complex world. The impulse to bend the globe to our will ought to be resisted, as should the instinct to continue to feed the military-industrial complex by draining the national treasury.

One of the reasons we ended up on a misguided mission in Iraq was that Democrats failed to put up enough resistance to the neocons who were then firmly in charge of the GOP. The doomed Vietnam War (though prosecuted by Democratic presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson) had left Democrats labeled wimps and cowards — a reputation they couldn’t shake. As a result, too many who should have known better, including then-senators Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and John Edwards, voted to give Bush the authority to oust Saddam.

It took Obama’s victory — he campaigned as a critic of the Iraq invasion — to help leading Democratic pols find the courage to resist a “dumb war.” There are still military interventionists in the Democratic Party, but there are far fewer who would support a war in hopes of appearing strong on the national stage.

The Republican Party hasn’t yet managed that transition. Its neocons have learned nothing from their years of folly, with Cheney and the entire cohort of Iraq War cheerleaders refusing to admit their mistakes. But if Paul can win enough support from his party’s base, he can help the GOP come to terms with a world America cannot rule.

(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at cynthia@cynthiatucker.com.)

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

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If Boss Trump is headed for defeat, he's getting his revenge early. His revenge upon his deluded supporters and the people they love, that is. Trump's re-election campaign now consists mainly of what epidemiologists call "super-spreader" events: large-scale rallies of unmasked, non-socially distanced Trumpists yelling in each other's faces while the Big Man emits a non-stop barrage of falsehoods, exaggerations, and barefaced lies.

Let me put it this way: If, say, the Rolling Stones decided to put on free concerts at airports around the country, they'd likely end up being taken into custody and deported as undesirable aliens. Of course, they'd also draw far bigger crowds than Trump, but that's not the point. The point is that Trump's actions are reckless and immoral; the peacetime equivalent of war crimes.

"Covid, covid, covid, covid, covid," he hollers. Trump claims that the United States is "turning the corner" on the pandemic, and that the accursed news media will quit reporting Covid-19 fatalities come November 4. He claims that health officials are motivated by greed because "doctors get more money and hospitals get more money" if they report that the virus was the cause of death.

Surveys have shown that more than a thousand physicians and nurses have died fighting the disease nationwide.

As ever, what he accuses others of doing is an excellent guide to the question: What would Trump do? Answer: he'd steal the silver dollars off a Covid victim's eyes and demand an investigation of Joe Biden

According to the Washington Post, the Trump campaign organization signed an agreement with officials in Duluth, Minnesota to limit attendance at a September 30 fly-in rally, in accordance with public health guidelines. Hours before the event, it became clear that no effort was being made to honor the agreement; some 2500 Trump supporters bunched up without masks on the tarmac, ten times the agreed limit.

Health Department officials' protests were simply ignored. Three days later, Trump himself was taken to Walter Reed Hospital by helicopter. Three weeks after that, the following headline appeared in the Duluth News-Tribune: "St. Louis County sees another record-breaking week of COVID-19 cases."

Any questions?

The Trump Circus subsequently performed in Janesville and Waukesha, Wisconsin in the midst of a record-setting pandemic outbreak there. "It took us 7 and a half months to reach our first 100,000 cases, & only 36 days to reach our second," the Wisconsin Department of Health tweeted. "In just two short months, the 7-day average of new confirmed cases has risen 405%."

But the show must go on. Trump regaled his Janesville audience with a veritable torrent of lies. The New York Times did a thorough fact-check of his October 17 speech. Reporters documented 130 false statements during Trump's 87 minutes onstage. Nearly three-quarters of his factual claims were untrue. The most egregious concerned Covid-19, probably because the disease represents his single greatest failure and most damaging political liability.

Another question: Does Trump count upon his supporters' invincible ignorance or simply share it? I fear it's a little of both. In Janesville, Trump made this absurd claim two minutes into his harangue: "When you look at our numbers compared to what's going on in Europe and other places," he said "we're doing well."

Any regular newspaper reader knows that this is simply nonsense. As the Times reports, "America has more cases and deaths per capita than any major country in Europe but Spain and Belgium. The United States has just 4 percent of the world's population but accounts for almost a quarter of the global deaths from Covid-19."

Germany, to choose the most striking comparison, has suffered only 122 deaths per million of its population, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States has recorded more than five times as many: 686 per million. Neighboring Canada, meanwhile, is at 264 per million. Several Asian countries, have handled the pandemic even better.

It's a matter of capable leadership and public cooperation.

No wonder Trump appears to have succumbed to a case of dictator envy. "COVID, COVID, COVID is being used by [the 'Fake News' media] in total coordination" he tweeted the other day "in order to change our great early election numbers. Should be an election law violation!"

Yeah, well they all report the same World Series scores too. Furthermore, if Trump had good election numbers, he wouldn't whine so much. Has there ever been a bigger crybaby in the White House?

(In related news, Vladimir Putin has issued a mandatory mask mandate after a surge in Russian Covid infections. Go figure.)

Meanwhile, the rallies go on; a bizarre spectacle people treat as if it's normal. Trump has become Covid-19's Typhoid Mary, an Irish cook who unwittingly infected 53 people back in 1906.

But unlike Mary, he should know better. If anybody should be locked up, as his rapt admirers chant, it's the Super-Spreader in Chief.