"Wacko birds": McCain and staff keep dumping on Rand Paul

At this point, you’d think he’d tone it down if for no other reason than that he’s doing Paul an incredible favor by continuing to pound on him. The optics simply couldn’t be better. An unsuccessful former party nominee who’s pushing 80 and known for being the most enthusiastic interventionist in American government, tearing a guy apart for making a basic constitutional point about not assassinating American citizens? What?

Don’t forget to send him a thank-you card, Rand. First, from BuzzFeed:

“Either they were drinking a lot at the Obama party or they’re just completely dismissive of what was going on,” said one senior Republican strategist. “They’re living in an alternative universe. I don’t get it at all. You have a party where there’s all this talk about how divided the establishment is from the grassroots, and then you have John McCain and Lindsey Graham come out of left field with this. People are just scratching their heads.”…

Another GOP operative called Graham and McCain “just completely out of touch.”…

“Senator McCain is obviously well aware of the politics of this – he just doesn’t care,” said one McCain aide. “He’s doing what he thinks is right. Unlike many of these guys, he’s actually been involved in a few national security debates over the years. He knows that jumping on the Rand Paul black helicopters crazytrain isn’t good for our Party or our country, no matter what Twitter says.”

Next, via HuffPo, sweet thoughts from the man himself:

“They were elected, nobody believes that there was a corrupt election, anything else,” McCain said. “But I also think that when, you know, it’s always the wacko birds on right and left that get the media megaphone.”

“I think it can be harmful if there is a belief among the American people that those people are reflective of the views of the majority of Republicans. They’re not,” he continued.

I asked McCain to clarify who, specifically, he was talking about.

“Rand Paul, Cruz, Amash, whoever,” McCain said…

“On some issues [McCain] sees him as a fellow maverick, but on some issues I think that pisses [McCain] off, having a maverick against John McCain,” said the Paul adviser, who asked to speak frankly in exchange that he not be identified. “I think he thinks Rand wants his way too much, like on [National Defense Authorization Act] … but I don’t think he thinks he’s doing it just to do it.”

It’s only the “wacko birds” who get the media megaphone? McCain, famously, has been the most ubiquitous guest on Sunday morning political talk shows for years. But wait, one more. This one’s my favorite just because it’s so revealingly petty:

McCain was quick to dismiss Paul’s nearly 13-hour effort since other Republican senators also came to speechify, giving Paul a slight break, even if the Kentucky Republican was unable to excuse himself to even use the restroom.

“Usually, traditionally it’s been one person, makes it a lot easier if you have other people talking for him,” McCain said.

He stood there for 13 hours without a bathroom break and spoke for the vast majority of it — on topic too, not by reading the phone book — but because Ted Cruz chewed up a little bit of time, the whole thing’s illegitimate.

Needless to say, if you want to marginalize Paul and the libertarians, the worst possible moment to do it is when he’s asking for a simple acknowledgment that the president can’t liquidate American citizens suspected of plotting terrorism on American soil without some sort of due process. Of all the civil-libertarian positions one could take on drones, that’s the most modest — no doubt deliberately so, as Paul knows that Obama’s refusal to grant even that much makes him look like Cheney on steroids and reduces his anti-Bush counterterror rhetoric circa 2007 to a joke. You would think Maverick might at least seize the opportunity to note that the guy who beat him five years ago did so in part by campaigning on a lie, but that would mean giving an inch of ground to the isolationists on his own side. So instead he sides with O even though everyone from Reince Priebus to Fox News to the Ron Paul fan base to Jon Stewart is patting Paul on the back, and inexplicably he insists on being nasty about it just in case anyone who enjoyed Paul’s performance hasn’t been completely alienated by McCain yet. Question for my fellow hawks: Is this really the hill to die on vis-a-vis paleocon/libertarian foreign policy? Arguing in favor of a president’s power to fire missiles at an enemy combatant on U.S. soil even if he’s a U.S. citizen and isn’t engaged in terrorism at the time when the FBI could just as easily go in and grab him? If that’s a “wacko bird” position, then a lot of people who agree with it will be left wondering whether the entire mainstream rap on libertarians and paleocons as being “fringe” and “extreme” is a lie. Maverick and Graham need to learn to pick their battles. Exit quotation via Newt: ““What I find sad about Sen. McCain’s recent comments both to Ted Cruz, when Ted Cruz was frankly raising legitimate questions [about Benghazi] and with Rand Paul, is, you know, when I first knew John McCain in the House — he was a maverick. In the Senate, for years, he was a maverick.” Yep. He’s not the maverick here anymore. That’s why he’s being so petty.