Senator Rand Paul is not an isolationist, he’s more of a homebody.
Since entering the Senate in January 2011, Paul has spent much of his time focused on reimagining America’s role in the world, but he apparently doesn't have much interest in traveling to many of the places he talks about.
In his capacity as a federal lawmaker, Paul has traveled abroad just once: to Israel and Jordan in 2013 for a privately funded tour that was described as an “information gathering trip.”
Paul met with King Abdullah and swam in the Dead Sea, clad in flower-printed swim trunks.
Beyond that jaunt to the Middle East, Senator Paul’s feet have remained firmly on American soil, according to Senate records.
Being a foreign policy expert who never goes anywhere foreign is not necessarily hypocritical, though it is a little unusual, especially because Paul has served on the Foreign Relations Committee since 2013.
Paul is the only returning member on the committee—Republican or Democrat—who has not made some kind of official international trip during their time in Congress.
Congressional delegation trips are taxpayer-funded and are commonly used by lawmakers to meet with foreign leaders and better understand different parts of the world—particularly if they are on committees that handle international affairs.
Paul’s aides respond to questions about the senator’s lack of international travel by noting that in his role as a doctor—he is an ophthalmologist by trade—Paul visited Guatemala in August to perform eye surgery on the poor. Sergio Gor, his spokesman, also said in an email that Paul “plans another trip this summer to a yet to be announced nation.”
(It’s actually not such a big secret. In a January interview in Las Vegas, Paul told me, “I’ll be in Haiti in August doing surgery.”)
Compared to Paul, the senator’s likely Republican primary rivals in the Senate are globe-trotters.
According to his travel disclosures, Senator Ted Cruz has traveled three times as a part of a congressional delegation, including one trip led by then-Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to Israel, Afghanistan and Italy in January 2013.
Senator Marco Rubio has been on several foreign trips as a member of the Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committee. In 2011, he visited Kuwait, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United Kingdom. And in 2014, he jetted off to Japan, the Philippines and South Korea.
Several GOP governors, who have less of a responsibility to travel abroad than a federal lawmaker who oversees American foreign policy, have been far more interested in seeing the world than Paul. In August, Rick Perry, who is not often accused of being worldly, embarked on an “economic development trip” to England, Germany, Poland, and Ukraine.
Chris Christie traveled to Mexico in 2014 and to the United Kingdom in January 2015. Just this past week Scott Walker also traveled to London to burnish his foreign policy credentials.
Asked if Paul’s passport had expired since his 2013 trip to Israel, his senior aide Doug Stafford said via email: “What.”
Perhaps, I wondered, there was a philosophical or scheduling reason that Paul had not made trips similar to his potential 2016 rivals?
“No specific reason,” Gor said.
His lack of visas hasn’t stopped Paul from aggressively speaking out about America’s foreign policy in the Middle East. He frequently spars with his fellow Republicans–Rubio, Christie, Perry, John McCain, Lindsey Graham—and with the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton.
His social media accounts are constantly peppered with foreign policy criticisms. One day last week, Paul’s social media team fired off five Tweets, claiming “#HillarysWar” in Libya “Created chaos in the Middle East. RETWEET IF YOU AGREE”
In December, he introduced a Declaration of War against ISIS.
Given Paul’s intense interest in the region, I asked Gor if the senator has plans to visit the Middle East. Gor emailed: “He’s visited Israel and Jordan in the past.”
Paul spent 2014 trying to convince the public that he is not an “isolationist,” as he is often branded, or even a “noninterventionist,” a moniker his father, former Congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul, wears proudly. Paul has rebranded himself a “conservative realist,” a fuzzy label that he has struggled to define, but sounds pleasant and American.
Though if Paul really wants to shake those other labels, he should probably keep his travel records well-hidden.