Yorktown backdrop for Rand Paul’s tough talk on defense

Paul Zoeller/StaffRepublican presidential candidate Kentucky U.S. Sen. Rand Paul kicked off his South Carolina campaign Thursday at Patriots Point. Paul, primarily known for his libertarian stances, spelled out his foreign policy platform in front of the World War II-era aircraft carrier Yorktown.

MOUNT PLEASANT — Two days after announcing he would run for the White House in 2016, Kentucky Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul used the aircraft carrier Yorktown as a backdrop to launch his South Carolina campaign, crafting his delivery to a hawkishly red state.

“As commander-in-chief, the world will know that our object is peace but the world will not mistake our desire for peace for passivity, the world should not mistake reluctance for inaction,” he told about 300 people Thursday at Patriots Point.

“And if war should prove unavoidable, America will fight with overwhelming force and we will not relent until victory is ours,” he said.

But Paul tempered his remarks by saying unbridled U.S. foreign policy is not in the best interest of America, as recent U.S. actions have shown.

“At home, conservatives understand that government is the problem, not the solution,” he said. “Conservatives, though, should not succumb to the notion that a government inept at home will somehow succeed in building nations abroad.”

During his Yorktown address Thursday he did not touch specifically on the fatal shooting of black motorist Walter Scott by white North Charleston police officer Michael Slager. But he did address the now-nationally followed shooting on CNN on Wednesday, where he cautioned against overreactions and broad-brush coloring of law enforcement.

“First, I would like to say it’s just a terrible tragedy, and I hope justice does occur,” Paul said on CNN. “But I do think that sometimes — the way we report news — we tend to report the news of crime, and so we see a lot of crime, and we think it’s representative of the whole. And I think when you look at police across our country, 98, 99 percent of them are doing their job on a day-to-day basis and aren’t doing things like this.”

Paul has actively reached out to minorities as a senator, sometimes chiding his own Republican Party over stands on voter I.D. laws and drug conviction sentencing guidelines.

Appearing with Paul on Thursday was former Oklahoma congressman and black Republican J.C. Watts and current South Carolina U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford. At the podium and in front of the rally audience, Sanford praised Paul’s commitment to constitutional principles, but afterward told reporters his words were not an official endorsement of Paul’s White House bid.

On several occasions Paul referred to the military sacrifice made by service men and women, using the World War II-era aircraft carrier as his reference point.

“The crew of the USS Yorktown understood that our freedom and prosperity must be defended against those who would attack us,” he said. “They learned the terrible lesson that war is not a game and should not be used for political advantage. Too many lawmakers in Washington haven’t learned that lesson.”

Beyond making his remarks on defense first in his South Carolina campaign kickoff, Paul stuck to many of the libertarian stances that have been his trademark, ranging from reining in federal spending to term limits and limiting government intrusion into personal lives and cellphones.

One of those in the audience was Nate Hertle, 30, of West Ashley, who said Paul is speaking to young people who want something more out of government than the status quo. “The youth wants someone who is very liberty oriented,” he said.

Paul’s announcement swing will also hit Iowa and Nevada this week, after appearances in New Hampshire and South Carolina. All four states hold early primaries and caucuses. He is the second GOP candidate officially in the race, after Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.