With a backdrop of the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier behind him at Patriot’s Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul officially kicked off his South Carolina campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
Before an enthusiastic crowd of supporters, Paul touched on a broad range of topics. But the 30-minute speech largely focused on a strong military, individual liberty, and financial accountability in Washington.
Paul, whose stance on foreign intervention is more dovish than some of his GOP rivals, spent much his time defending his position. “I will never take the country to war without just cause and without constitutional approval of Congress,” he said during Thursday’s speech.
He also pledged to take a harder stance on peacetime involvement overseas, saying the U.S. should withdraw financial support for those foreign nations that act against American interests. “It angers me to see mobs burning our flag and chanting, ‘Death to America,’ in countries that receive millions of dollars of our aid,” he said to cheers. “I say it must end. I say not one penny more to these haters of America.”
Paul is the second Republican to officially declare his candidacy in the 2016 presidential race, making the announcement in Louisville on Tuesday. The other official candidate Texas Sen. Ted Cruz visited South Carolina last week.
Patriots Point was Paul’s only official campaign stop in South Carolina this trip, although he did spend Wednesday night in North Charleston. He did not address the ongoing national controversy over a fatal officer-involved shooting there during Thursday’s speech.
The Kentucky senator and son of former Texas Congressman Ron Paul has been criticized for appearing to shift his support more towards increased military funding as he laid the groundwork for a White House run. During budget sequestration debates in 2011, Paul had supported cutting the Defense Department to help save money. But he is now pushing for a $190 million increase to the Pentagon (although he would require cuts elsewhere in the budget). A testy interview with NBC News on Wednesday underscored the perception the Republican is fighting against his critics who accuse him of flipping on the issue.
He also touched on reducing the budget deficit Thursday, joining with several other GOP candidates to call for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. “Congress will never balance the budget,” he said. “I’ve been there. I’ve met these folks. They will never ever balance the budget unless you force them to do it.”
Congressman Mark Sanford, who represents the area in the House of Representatives, was in attendance at Thursday’s event. He spoke favorably of Paul on-stage, but did not endorse his candidacy. “It was not a formal endorsement,” Bloomberg News quoted him as saying afterwards. “But stay tuned. I don’t think I will stay neutral over the long run.”
Meanwhile South Carolina Congressman Mick Mulvaney was included in a Paul campaign video “welcoming” the Kentucky senator to the Palmetto State. “I think he’d make a tremendous president,” Mulvaney said in the video encouraging supporters to get involved in the campaign.
But South Carolina native Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is reportedly considering a White House run himself, made it clear he does not support Paul on foreign policy. In an interview with New Hampshire TV station WMUR on Thursday, Graham criticized Paul’s position on the Iran deal negotiations. “Rand Paul was the only one who felt uncomfortable accepting the proposition that you can’t contain a nuclear-armed Iran,” Graham said. “I think he’d be one of the worst people to take Barack Obama’s seat.”
Jay Harper contributed to this report