The only thing remarkable about Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul’s recent foray into foreign policy is how quickly he has managed to annoy Republicans. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) got the ball rolling by making clear he was the Reaganite on foreign policy and did not agree with Paul’s views. That opened the floodgates.
Consider a contributor at the rock-ribbed RedState, which backs candidates like Milton Wolf and Matt Bevin:
[T]he way Paul characterizes American foreign policy under Reagan is nothing short of juvenile. . . . Reagan, who had never been to war, invaded Grenada. We carried out significant proxy wars in Angola, Mozambique, Eritrea, Somalia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and … Afghanistan. One of them, that in Nicaragua, seemed poised to bring down his Administration. Reagan not only “tweaked” the Soviets, he changed our policy from the George Keenan inspired “containment” to one of “roll back.” Unlike any previous president, no country fell to communism under Reagan and the costs associated with them holding onto their empire increased exponentially. Reagan deployed Pershing missiles and Surface Launched Cruise Missiles (SLCM) to Europe. Ballistic Missile Defense began. The US Navy approached 600 ships. The Army had 18 divisions. These were all actions that raised the stakes of possible Soviet adventurism and were accompanied by significant calculated risks on his part.
The flip-flop from critic of Russia antagonists to chest-thumper has worked to “disqualify him for the presidency.”
There were also less dogmatic conservatives who either criticized Paul by way of praise for the savvier Cruz or who flat ruled him out as a top tier competitor. (“There’s been a false impression created that Paul’s non-interventionist views are gaining traction within the GOP. This idea has been based on trying to find superficial areas of agreement among Republicans (on issues such as opposing U.S. military action in Syria) that obscure fundamental disagreements. . . . My working assumption has been that Paul isn’t a serious threat to be the GOP presidential nominee in 2016, and his recent dust-up with Cruz only reaffirms that view.”)
On top of this, there are evangelical conservatives, who have already tangled with Rand Paul and are exceptionally wary of his kind words for containment of Iran and angry about his accusations that they are warmongers.
Why did the dam break all of a sudden? For one thing, President Obama’s perceived weakness has aroused the tough national security instincts of conservatives. There is now more focus on what potential presidential candidates think on the plethora of Obama-era foreign policy debacles. But Cruz, whose right-wing credentials can’t be questioned, certainly helped push Paul into the line of fire.
Paul is nevertheless very likely to run for president in 2016, provided he can jigger state rules to allow him to also hang onto his Senate seat. The first presidential primary debate against actual Reaganite foreign policy followers (e.g. former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton) should be something to behold. In short, the GOP seems unprepared to nominate someone even less assertive on foreign policy than Obama.