Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky, who is a candidate for his party's 2016 presidential nomination, has created a national brand as a man unafraid of challenging party orthodoxy.
That was on display Wednesday when Senator Paul credited the rise of the Islamic State terrorist group to hawks within his own party.
"ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately, and most of those arms were snatched up by ISIS," Paul said in an interview with MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough that aired Wednesday on “Morning Joe.” "They’ve created these people."
As severe as his statement appears, it's not surprising: Paul is known for his unflinching attacks on his own party. He recently wrote that the Republican brand is "broken." And a central theme in his campaign is challenging Republican hawkishness abroad and the national security state at home.
Republican hawkishness has long gone unchallenged within the party – critics have alleged that hawks in the George W. Bush administration dragged the nation into the Iraq war on exaggerated evidence. Are Paul and the GOP's libertarian wing changing the party's narrative?
He's certainly trying.
In April 2013, when news emerged that US contractors reaped $138 billion from the Iraq war, Senator Paul told the Christian Broadcast Network that his party is too enthusiastic for war. "Part of Republicans' problems... I think [they] have appeared too eager for war," he said.
In December 2014, when President Obama announced he would restore ties with the Castro regime, Republicans decried communist appeasement. But Paul allied with the president and said he supported normalizing relations with Cuba.
And as a majority of Republicans offer a full-throated defense of the Patriot Act, Paul has spoken out against it and against government surveillance programs. “I’m the only one out there saying the Patriot Act went too far,” Paul said in Wednesday's MSNBC interview.
His contrarian stance resonates: Some 60 percent of Americans believe the Patriot Act should be reformed “to limit government surveillance and protect Americans’ privacy," according to a new poll commissioned by the ACLU. Most Americans also oppose the NSA's collection of phone records, according to a January 2014 poll.
And as for the Iraq war, Americans appear to be nearly united, with 75 percent saying it wasn't worth the costs, according to a June 2014 CBS/New York Times poll.
Is Paul changing the GOP foreign policy narrative? Not quite. Some in the party are "nearing a critical mass of impatience with what some call “Rand-ism," writes Politico's Alexander Burns. From center-right South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham to center-left New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, they're lashing out at Paul and his foreign policy philosophy.
In fact, there is evidence that Paul himself is changing, adopting a more hawkish tone to appeal to his party base as the 2016 race heats up.
He proposed an increase in military spending in March, calling for a nearly $190 billion infusion to the defense budget over the next two years, seen as an olive branch to defense hawks.
And as the Financial Times pointed out, "After spending years criticizing Republican colleagues for demonizing Iran, he was one of the 47 senators who signed last month the now-infamous letter to Iran’s leaders warning them not to trust any deal signed by Mr. Obama."
But it was his presidential campaign announcement tour that best summed up Paul's evolving foreign policy.
"I envision an America with a national defense unparalleled, undefeatable, and unencumbered by overseas nation-building," he told supporters in Louisville in April.
His backdrop for his South Carolina announcement? The aircraft carrier USS Yorktown.