Rand Paul's new 2016 nemesis: John Bolton?

You think Rand’s worried about the hawkish side of the Republican party being represented at the debates by one of the most prominent faces of George W. Bush’s foreign-policy team? Soft isolationism’s going to be a hard sell to conservatives, but one way to maximize its chances is to have its main spokesman hail from an administration whose unpopularity ended up helping to get Barack Obama elected.

Imagine if it happens. In 2008, Ron Paul played gadfly to a stage full of Republican interventionists. In 2016, John Bolton might be the one playing gadfly to … er, a stage full of Republican interventionists plus Ron Paul’s son. Times change.

Paul’s positions and rapid ascent have alarmed many Republican hawks. Behind the scenes, they’re worried that he has a shot at the nomination.

Enter John Bolton. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is being encouraged by several leading conservative power brokers to consider a presidential bid.

Bolton, who briefly considered running for president in 2012, hasn’t made up his mind. But sources tell me that he is moving closer to giving the idea serious consideration — serious enough to travel to Iowa and New Hampshire.

Later this year and throughout 2014, the former Reagan and Bush official will begin an informal national tour.

Bolton also plans to start “a few related groups” to push his policy positions, notes Robert Costa. Is this a case of him building an organization because he’s really thinking about running or is it a case, as New York mag speculates, of him hinting idly about running in order to promote his organization? He talked about running last time too, remember, and didn’t pull the trigger. Then again, Ron Paul was never a threat to actually win the way Rand kinda sorta maybe a little bit is.

My hunch is that some establishment conservatives want an articulate hawkish foreign-policy specialist in the race as a stalking horse for more viable candidates like Rubio, who won’t benefit from being dragged into a battle with Paul over interventionism. Most rank-and-file Republicans are still hawks on balance, I think, but given a choice between Paul’s softer-than-Ron isolationism and McCainian hawkishness of the sort Rubio flirts with, Rand will get a real look. Even if Rubio wins that battle in the primaries, Democrats will use his more interventionist pronouncements from the primary against him in the general. (Yes, yes, I know, it’s ridiculous for Democrats to pretend they’re wary of interventionism at this point. But that’s politics.) Best to keep him, Jindal, Ryan, and the rest of the “electables” above the foreign-policy fray by bringing in Bolton in to try to discredit Paul’s approach while the Rubios in the race triangulate between them. If all goes according to plan, Paul loses and the eventual winner hasn’t irretrievably alienated anyone on foreign policy except the hardest hardliners on either side. And who knows? If the winner goes on to take the White House, maybe he rewards Bolton with a diplomatic appointment. That depends on Republicans recapturing the Senate, but that’s certainly possible by 2017.

Via Newsmax, here’s Bolton pronouncing Snowden a traitor a few weeks ago, just days after the PRISM story first broke. Skip to 6:15 for the key bit. Imagine that debate with Paul onstage in New Hampshire two years from now.

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