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EARLY BARBS IN THE 2016 GOP PRESIDENTIAL BATTLE … 

We’re not sure it’s accurate to describe U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) as a “libertarian” – especially not in light of his escalating sellout to the “Republican” establishment.

Nonetheless, that’s the label one establishment “Republican” is applying to Paul’s 2016 presidential candidacy.

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum – a fiscal liberal, social conservative who is also eyeing a 2016 bid – dismissed Paul’s prospects of securing the GOP nod during an interview this week on CNN.

“I don’t think that will happen because the Republican Party is not a libertarian party, it is a conservative party,” Santorum said. “And it will nominate a conservative, and not a libertarian.”

Santorum is one of the leading critics of the emerging fiscally conservative, socially libertarian wing of the GOP. In fact he’s downright hostile to elected officials who are championing this ideology – and has been spearheading a movement (along with social conservatives like Huckabee and so-called “neo-conservatives” like U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham) to boot them from the party.

“The Republican Party isn’t going to change,” Santorum infamously said last spring. “If we do change, we’ll be the Whig Party. We’re not the Libertarian Party, we’re the Republican Party.”

This website has made our distaste for Santorum abundantly clear.

“Santorum’s nonexistent commitment to taxpayers coupled with his sanctimonious, discriminatory world view represents everything that’s wrong with the GOP,” we wrote earlier this year. “If he does run in 2016, we look forward to roasting him at every turn.”

Of course we’re also less-than-enthralled by Rand Paul’s recent moves …

Paul endorsed liberal “Republican” presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, and this year he’s backing liberal “Republican” Senate leader Mitch McConnell. In between those betrayals he came down to the Palmetto State and raised money for the ethically (and literally) bankrupt S.C. Republican Party – which is slavishly devoted to the expansion of the state’s bloated and inefficient government bureaucracy.

Paul supporters argue he’s not straying from his ideological moorings – just looking to expand his appeal.

Maybe so, but giving one’s imprimatur to politicians like Romney, McConnell and (most recently) liberal U.S. Sen. Susan Collins strikes us as an embrace of their positions.

For example in endorsing Collins, Paul was asked by a newspaper in Maine why he would back a candidate who aggressively supported the National Security Agency (NSA)’s domestic spying program – especially when the Democrat in the race opposed the program.

His answer?

“I don’t really know, exactly, what her position is on the NSA; you’d have to ask her about that,” he said.

Uh-huh …

Advancing a true limited government agenda is about more than just the positions a politician takes – its also about the people he or she decides to support. Rand Paul needs to recognize that.