Rand Paul Sen. Rand Paul works a crowd during a campaign stop on October 24, 2014 in McDonough, Georgia.
Jessica McGowan—Getty Images
By Denver Nicks
December 18, 2014

The announcement from the White House Wednesday that the U.S. will move to re-establish full diplomatic ties with Cuba sparked a wave of condemnation from the likely Republican presidential candidates with one exception: Sen. Rand Paul.

The Kentucky Republican broke with the rest of the 2016 pack today when he said that President Obama’s decision was “a good idea.”

That fits with Paul’s broader effort to attract younger voters and expand the Republican Party, since younger Cuban-Americans are not as supportive of the trade and travel restrictions as their parents, though it could risk turning off some older Republican voters, especially in the crucial battleground of Florida.

It put him on the same side as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the leading contender on the Democratic side, who has argued that the trade embargo was counterproductive.

Here’s a look at what the major Republican contenders had to say about the change in U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Sen. Rand Paul: Supportive

What he said: “If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn’t seem to be working and probably it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship. In the end, I think opening up Cuba is probably a good idea.” (WVHU)

What it meant: The libertarian-leaning son of former Rep. Ron Paul—a longtime critic of America’s Cuba policy—Paul is the rare Republican to come out in support of reestablishing diplomatic relations.

Sen. Marco Rubio: Opposed

What he said: “This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion. On a lie. The lie and the illusion that more access to goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people.” (C-SPAN)

What it meant: A longtime vocal critic of the Castro regime, it’s no surprise Rubio is hewing to his longstanding hardline position. As the son of Cuban immigrants, the likely 2016 presidential hopeful has ideological and personal motivations for his pro-embargo stance.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush: Opposed

What he said: “The beneficiaries of President Obama’s ill-advised move will be the heinous Castro brothers who have oppressed the Cuban people for decades.” (Facebook)

What it meant: A former Florida governor, Bush also has a long history of opposition to the Castro regime and he is sticking to his guns.

Sen. Ted Cruz: Opposed

What he said: “Fidel and Raul Castro have just received both international legitimacy and a badly-needed economic lifeline from President Obama. But they remain in control of a totalitarian police state modeled on their old state sponsor, the Soviet Union.” (Statement)

What it meant: Cruz is a Tea Party favorite who has staked out ideological territory on the far right of his party and been a consistent critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

Gov. Scott Walker: Opposed

What he said: “I think it’s a bad idea. I don’t think there’s been any noticeable change towards making that a more free and prosperous country. There’s a reason why we had the policy in the first place.” (Capital Times)

What it meant: As the governor of Wisconsin, Walker hasn’t had much reason to talk about Cuban policy in the past and has little incentive to break with the party on such a hot-button topic now.

Gov. Chris Christie: No Comment

What he said: Nothing, so far, though he talked at length about his encounters with Philadelphia Eagles fans at a recent football game in a radio interview Thursday morning.

What it meant: With some exceptions, Christie has mostly avoided talking about foreign policy, reflective of his role as governor and head of a group promoting Republican governors.


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