- Rick Santorum served on the Senate Armed Services Committee for eight years, though by 2016 that experience will have been a decade old.
- Marco Rubio has served on both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence since his 2010 election.
- Rand Paul has served on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee since 2010 and Foreign Relations since 2012.
It’s that last name that I find pretty amusing, because Rand Paul gives many GOP donors the vapors with respect to his foreign policy worldview. This hasn’t stopped Paul from taking foreign affairs seriously as a policy issue. Furthermore, in contrast to, say, Bush or Santorum, Paul will avoid the foreign policy taint that comes from the Iraq war. Indeed, when the first 2016 debates come around, Paul will be in a position to argue that he has more experience and a better record on foreign policy than almost all of the other contenders.
[This 10-second pause to allow every neoconservative reading this to rend their garments is brought to you by the good folks at the McCain Institute for International Leadership. Not sure which countries you should advocate bombing in 2016?! Let the McCain Institute advise your campaign about where to exercise the use of force in a positive way!!]
Now, ordinarily, I wouldn’t think that any of this matters too much for the primary campaign. Voters don’t care all that much about foreign policy. Governors can compensate for a lack of foreign policy experience by collecting foreign policy advisers with lots of gravitas (indeed, as Crowley notes, Condoleezza Rice is advising Jeb Bush). And so forth.
That said, there are three ways in which 2016 might make foreign policy matter more. First, as the U.S. economy improves, it will become a harder issue to press on the campaign trail.It’s obviously not going to go away, but focusing like a laser beam on it won’t cut it this year.
Second, the wealth of 2016 GOP contenders will make it difficult for the foreign policy folk to congregate around one particular candidate. This is not going to be like the 2000 campaign, when George W. Bush essentially co-opted all of his father’s foreign policy advisers. Bush was able to compensate for his own deficit of foreign policy experience by pointing to the surfeit of it from his confidantes. No single candidate will have that option this time around during the invisible primary stage.
Third, if Hillary Clinton runs — and she’s starting to make the necessary moves — then she’s going to be able to blow the GOP field out of the water when it comes to foreign policy background. She’ll obviously be vulnerable to attacks on her foreign policy record. But for those attacks to work, the GOP nominee is going to have to meet a minimum threshold of foreign policy/national security acumen. And at this point, the only two candidates that meet that threshold are Rubio and Paul.
Which means that “the more muscular peace-through-strength wing of the party,” as Ari Fleischer puts it, is either going to have to go all in on Rubio or find another viable alternative to Paul in the next six months.
Developing… in some very interesting ways.