Despite the high-profile spats with fellow Republicans, Paul would surely argue he’s trying not to deepen the party’s divisions but to unite the GOP around common goals. In both pieces, Paul repeatedly invokes Reagan’s doctrine of “peace through strength” and makes the case that Reagan was less interventionist than many who invoke his name today. (As Peter Beinart notes in this trenchant analysis, Paul is both right and wrong about Reagan, whose foreign policy was quite aggressive even if it didn’t often involve boots on the ground.) He is seizing on every opportunity to clarify and explain a set of views that he sees as nuanced and commonsensical, and to defend them against the critique that they amount to mere withdrawal from the world.
Perhaps more interesting than this hawks-versus-libertarians dispute, which is an old argument, is who Paul’s antagonists have been. Both Perry and Cruz are politicians who’ve long been associated with the Tea Party, as Paul has. Perry, in his ill-fated 2012 campaign, warned of “military adventurism,” called for withdrawal from Afghanistan, and advocated cutting off aid to Pakistan. Cruz was lumped in with Paul in the category McCain derided as “wacko birds” after Paul’s 2013 drone filibuster. Yet both Perry and Cruz are anxious to differentiate themselves from Paul by turning him into a peacenik caricature. (As Dave Weigel points out, there is personal animosity behind the Perry-Paul spat.) Paul and his allies, for their part, tend to see a neoconservative conspiracy in the way he’s so often used as a punching bag. In an interview last year, Paul described his antagonists to me as “the perpetual war caucus,” and added, “I think much of their chagrin is they see that we’re winning. They’re on the losing side of history.”
Rand Paul is performing an admirable service for the Republican Party: forcing it to have an uncomfortable family conversation—airing an internal dispute that otherwise might get papered over.