Well, that escalated quickly.
No sooner has Sen. Rand Paul announced the launch of his presidential campaign Tuesday in Louisville, Ky., than a conservative group unleashed the first salvo in the 2016 political ad wars: a $1 million, 30-second TV ad calling the Republican presidential hopeful "dangerous."
Attack ads typically appear weeks after a candidate has announced. This time, it appears, a hawkish foreign policy group is determined to tie Senator Paul to Obama's Iran policy on Paul's announcement day.
“The Senate is considering tough new sanctions on Iran,” a male narrator says in the 30-second spot. “President Obama says he’ll veto them. And Rand Paul is standing with him.”
Paul supports Mr. Obama’s negotiations with Iran, the ad suggests, “and he doesn’t understand the threat.”
“Rand Paul is wrong and dangerous,” the narrator intones. “Tell him to stop siding with Obama.
“Because even one Iranian bomb would be a disaster,” it concludes. Just like the infamous 1964 "Daisy" ad that attacked Republican presidential hopeful Barry Goldwater, the final shot is of a mushroom cloud.
The ad comes from the 501(c)4 nonprofit, the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America. According to Politico, the ad will run Wednesday through Sunday on broadcast TV in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada – the four states with early presidential primaries and caucuses – as well as nationally on Fox News.
The group is led by Rick Reed, who helped produce ads for the "Swiftboat Veterans for Truth" campaign, which in 2004 sought to undermine then-presidential candidate John Kerry's national security credentials.
This time, Mr. Reed's target is Paul.
As Bloomberg View writes, "The scale of the campaign is remarkable this early on in a primary fight, and reflects not only the depth of the hostility toward Paul’s worldview among many conservatives but also the prominence of national security in the 2016 cycle."
Why does the attack ad single out Paul?
The broader answer is that Paul is seen by those on the right and left as a possible "third way." Last fall, former Republican National Committee chair Michael Steele called him the "most dangerous man" in US politics.
What I admire about Rand Paul, and what I appreciate in his effort, is that he is making the effort. He’s been honest and exposing himself a lot more than any Republican potential candidate in three or four cycles and that is almost 30 years. So the reality of it is you’ve got this individual who is reshaping right now, the landscape going into 2016. The Times [sic] called him 'the most interesting man in politics.' I call him the most dangerous man in politics, because he has the ability to draw from the Democrats as well as the Republican bases in a way that could upset a few apple carts if this thing strikes the way he is talking.
More specifically, establishment Republicans and foreign policy hawks famously oppose Paul's non-interventionist approach to foreign relations.
The ad highlights a recording from a 2007 interview in which Paul, defending his father’s worldview on Iran, said, “You know, it’s ridiculous to think that they’re a threat to our national security.”
In the latest round of Iran negotiations, after the Obama administration announced a framework for a deal in which the Persian nation would receive sanctions relief in exchange for pulling back its nuclear program, every 2016 Republican contender has come out publicly against the deal except Paul.
Nonetheless, as reports have pointed out, Paul was one of 47 Republican senators who recently signed a letter to Iranian leaders warning them that the next US president could simply reverse any deal on Iran’s nuclear program.
On Monday, after avoiding comment on the Obama administration's Iran deal for days, Paul broke his silence.
“Senator Paul will be watching closely and believes any deal must make clear Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon, allows for full verification and is approved by Congress,” spokesman Doug Stafford told Bloomberg. “He voted for sanctions both times they were put before Congress and believes only Congress should remove those sanctions.”
As Bloomberg suggested, this week's attack ad may put further pressure on Paul to take sides on Iran, by "choos[ing] between appeasing his critics or staying true to the libertarian base."