For Rand Paul, it is a question that could well decide whether the libertarian-leaning Kentucky senator has a shot at ever becoming president: Republicans find you interesting, but how could you possibly survive a primary process where your anti-American-intervention instincts will be attacked as soft in a party that typically favors projecting international strength?
"That fails to understand where the people are in the country," the junior senator from Kentucky responded at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council annual meeting in Washington. "It also fails to understand who I am and what I support."
Paul went on to say he grew up as a "Reagan Republican," who attended the party's 1976 convention when his father, former Representative Ron Paul of Texas, was a delegate.
"Peace through strength is something I believe viscerally," he said. "Do I believe that defense is the No. 1 thing we have to do in the federal government? Absolutely. So anybody who comes in and wants to say otherwise will have to argue with the facts."
In making his case, Paul cited a Bloomberg Politics/Des Moines Register Iowa Poll from early October that asked whether likely attendees of the 2016 presidential caucuses agree with his views on foreign policy or those closer to the set held by Senator John McCain of Arizona, who has sparred with Paul on foreign policy.
"They asked ordinary Republicans who live where I live, in middle America, they asked them—and I think it's a great question because they put it in general terms and not real stark terms—they said, do you agree more with John McCain and more intervention, or do you agree more with Rand Paul and less intervention?," he said.
"I think that's a great way to put it because I'm not talking about all or none," Paul said. "I'm not talking about no intervention. I think we do have to intervene right now with ISIS, so I'm not talking about all or none. But I do believe less. I believe we've been everywhere all the time and we're about to bankrupt our country and that there is great danger to what we've been doing. So, I want less. McCain wants more. He wants 15 countries more or 15 wars more."
On the poll question, 45 percent said the U.S. should be quicker to intervene in conflicts overseas and 41 percent said the country should pull back and be slower to intervene. "Forty-one percent agreed with me," he said. "So, this is not a small movement."
Paul said suggestions that he doesn't support a strong military are simply wrong. "That's a caricature and will have to fight that, but we'll see what happens," he said.