The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens calls it “bark-at-the-moon lunacy about Halliburton.” National Review’s Rich Lowry opines that “his instincts sometimes seem more appropriate to a dorm-room bull session than the Situation Room.”

They aren’t referring to the foreign policy views of President Obama or MSNBC’s Chris Matthews or Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). These and other Republicans are speaking, of course, about Rand Paul, the man the MSM would so dearly love to dub the “front-runner” in the GOP presidential primary, no doubt because his foreign policy views bear an uncanny resemblance to the far left’s anti-interventionism and deep suspicions about America’s international motivations.

Even more troubling than his foreign policy extremism is the Paul camp’s readiness to attack its critics, whom it claims are taking his words out of context or worse — angling for war:

I asked Paul about the time Christie called his foreign policy “dangerous” and when former U.S. ambassador to the U.N John Bolton described Republicans like Paul as “unfit to serve.” (Both men, particularly Christie, harbor presidential ambitions of their own.)

“The people who are saying that are the dangerous people,” Paul said. “The people who wake up at night thinking of which new country they want to bomb, which new country they want to be involved in, they don’t like restraint. They don’t like reluctance to go to war. They really wouldn’t like Ronald Reagan if they read anything he wrote or were introduced to it.”

Those are strong words for every other GOP contender who will take issue with his foreign policy extremism, not to mention the entire Republican contingent in the Senate and most every significant conservative outlet. (I wouldn’t recommend he repeat that charge in a presidential debate to Rick Santorum or Bolton or other informed hawks.) And his outburst reminds us of the sort of thin-skinned petulance that caused him to strike out at media criticism of his decision to hire the “Southern Avenger,” a pro-Confederate aide whom Paul refused to dump until the backlash became too much to ignore. The idea that critics of fringe foreign policy views are malicious and ignorant will strike many Republicans as the sort of treatment they receive from Democrats, especially Obama.

But it’s not so easy to brush off sensible, factually accurate indictments of his foreign policy hooey. Lowry explains:

Paul likes to calls his foreign policy “realism,” but his record on Russia suggests the label is inapt. Last year, he thought what was wrong with President Barack Obama’s Syria policy was that we weren’t engaging the Russians enough. Earlier this year, he held out the Syria chemical-weapons deal — a humiliation for the United States that secured Bashar Assad in power — as a model for future diplomacy. He thought the Russians were a partner for peace, right on the cusp of their launching a war.

You don’t have to be a war profiteer to consider this dewy-eyed foolishness. Barack Obama’s can’t-we-all-get-along naiveté didn’t hurt him in his primary fight in 2008, but he was running in the other party. Rand Paul is running in a party that, while chastened on foreign policy, still has a hawkish reflex — and not because it is beholden to Halliburton.

And we haven’t yet gotten to Paul’s biggest foreign policy problem: evangelical Christians. He’s already tried his “warmonger” routine with them and gotten slapped down. But these Republicans, who play a significant role in presidential primaries and caucuses, know their Reagan history well. They, too, see America as the “shining city on the hill” and the “last, best hope” for mankind. They don’t buy that we should give “diplomacy” a chance with the mullahs, and certainly not John Kerry a chance, while rolling back sanctions on Iran. MSM pundits and Paul fans fail to appreciate how critical foreign policy is to these Republicans, and how deep their animosity is toward anything that smacks of Obama’s retrenchment, naïve outreach to the mullahs and submissiveness to alpha dog Vladimir Putin.

Paul will need to learn to engage and not insult his critics, and defend his views in the face of virtually united opposition. It was his ill fortune — and the GOP’s good fortune — for his presidential run to follow the “trifecta” of foreign policy failures of the Obama administration. The GOP has come to its senses — just in time to restore its role as the pro-defense foreign policy and to cut off another Paul. Timing is everything in politics.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.