Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of space between McCain and Paul, and I think we would probably agree that when it comes to style, temperament, etc., Cruz is a lot closer to Paul than he is to McCain (remember the whole “wacko birds” thing?) During his CPAC speech, for example, Cruz praised Ronald Reagan and Ron Paul for being the two candidates who attracted young supporters. (His mention of McCain was less positive. “Of course, all of us remember President Dole, President McCain, President Romney,” he said.)
So basically, the Cruz strategy is to get close to Paul, while still staying toward the middle of the field. If you care about small government, both guys are good. Want to take on Obama? Check. Don’t like drone strikes, want to close the IRS, hate ObamaCare? Check. Check. Check.
But Cruz is making a bet that Paul’s more libertarian positions on issues like non-interventionism aren’t a mainstream opinion. So he will set up shop just on the other side of Paul. Anyone who says, “I really like Paul’s position, but I think we need to stand up to Russia,” now has a home. Or the guy who says, “I hate drones, but I don’t want Iran to go nuclear,” has a candidate.
Paul’s touchiness is more interesting than his argument. Noting that Reagan sometimes did dovish things does not weaken Cruz’s (obviously correct) contention that Reagan was more hawkish than Paul is. While Russia was planning to move into Crimea, Paul was warning that U.S. officials should not “tweak Russia all the time” and should instead “be respectful.” Other Republicans have not said anything similar, and it is difficult to imagine Reagan — who believed it was important to call out the Kremlin — saying it either.
So why doesn’t Paul just say that circumstances have changed since the 1980s and our policies should change, too? Why does he protest when someone points out the obvious?
I suspect Paul’s problem is simple: For all the talk of rising Republican isolationism, he knows full well that he is an outlier in his party. That’s why Cruz’s mild words of differentiation have such sting.
His best chance of making headway in a presidential race is to leverage the trust conservatives have for him on domestic issues to make his foreign policy views easier for conservatives to accept. If it’s him debating foreign policy with the likes of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or other figures favored by the party’s establishment, it would be much easier for Paul to muddy the waters. He could essentially argue, “Of course, big government establishment RINOs would smear my foreign policy views, because they’re frightened of having a true conservative win.”
That’s much harder to do with Cruz in the picture. Cruz has at least as much credibility as Paul with the conservative base — if not more. Whether or not Cruz runs, having him in the media amplifying the criticism of Paul’s foreign policy views would make Paul’s already difficult job of trying to appeal to a wider electorate that much harder. He cannot dismiss Cruz as just another establishment RINO trying to sabotage the candidacy of a genuine conservative. Anything Paul does to assert that he really believes in a strong role for the U.S. in global affairs risks alienating his father’s energetic supporters, who favor a more restrained foreign policy. Anything he does to shore up support among this core group of his father’s supporters would then feed into the criticism being lobbed by Cruz…
My working assumption has been that Paul isn’t a serious threat to be the GOP presidential nominee in 2016, and his recent dust-up with Cruz only reaffirms that view.
Paul has attempted to associate his foreign policy with the realism of Henry Kissinger. It is not a good fit. Realism has generally asserted the need for a strong executive in conducting global strategy. Paul apparently believes that U.S. presidents can’t be trusted with sophisticated weapons lest they kill Americans in cafes. His approach is not realism but non-interventionism. His libertarian foreign policy holds that America is less secure because it has been “too belligerent” and that decades of international engagement have both corrupted our constitutional order and corrupted other nations with our largess or militarism. This perspective sometimes overlaps with foreign policy realism but only in the narrow cases when both recommend disengagement. Paul has a trumpet that only sounds retreat.
For a while, it seemed that Paul’s views were sweeping the GOP. Now we are witnessing the beginnings of a backlash to his backlash, aided by Vladimir Putin. Americans may not have suddenly developed a keen humanitarian concern for Ukrainians, but a revanchist Russia is the type of threat that has mobilized conservatives in the past. While a “let them fight it out” argument may play well concerning Syria, a “let Putin get away with it” argument is a harder sell. The partisan momentum in the GOP is no longer entirely on the side of disengagement. Across the party, a Reaganite critique of Obama’s foreign policy stirs…
Paul is left to insist, “I’m a great believer in Ronald Reagan.” This amounts to a serious concession, since Reagan would not have returned the compliment.
Cruz, who sees his Republican colleague from Kentucky maintaining his popularity with the conservative base, is trying to use foreign policy as a way to gain favor. But that’s not necessarily the best idea. He should have asked Marco Rubio.
One of the bigger flops at CPAC was the Florida Republican, once seen as a young conservative darling who could win with wide appeal. Today, though, he’s but a blip on the radar after isolating many conservatives with his work on immigration reform. Attempting to win support back, he went on the offensive with foreign policy…
And how did it pan out for him? He finished in a very distant seventh place at CPAC, with only 6 percent support. For someone who got second place last year, that’s quite the disappointing finish. His speech did not work with that audience (the message could resonate with voters outside of CPAC, like his action on immigration).
Now Cruz is attempting a similar strategy. But if Cruz wants to stand apart from the front-runner, he needs to find another issue. He won’t win with this one.
[W]hile some Republicans may prefer tough talk about Putin or the ayatollahs to Paul’s more nuanced commentary, there is an obvious reply: rhetoric aside, what would a Cruz or a Rubio really do differently? Such rhetoric matters, of course, and there are usually non-military options available, like economic sanctions.
But Paul’s critics should be obliged to tell us if they want war against any of the half-dozen or so countries whose governments they castigate. If not, does their position really differ that much from Paul’s? If they do, is Paul really the Republican holding a non-mainstream opinion?
If Reagan is the golden mean, which countries did he invade to set in motion the end of the Cold War and the toppling of the Berlin Wall? And which of the limited interventions he did support, besides Grenada, are still counted among his crowning foreign-policy achievements today?
Like Christie, Sen. Ted Cruz also portrayed himself as an outsider fighting timid forces in Washington while looking for a way to win. In his telling, too many gutless Beltway insiders followed the “Washington way” of compromise and calculated triangulation. That way, he said, was a surefire path toward policy failure—and electoral defeat. “You want to lose elections,” he said, “stand for nothing.” Cruz provided a 10 point list to help explain what he stood for: repealing Obamacare, repealing Dodd-Frank, stopping presidential lawlessness, abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, and ending corruption all made the cut. Cruz nodded to expansions of school choice and energy production, as well as defending the Constitution, but mostly it was a rundown of specific things he opposed.
Strangely, Cruz also seemed to suggest that part of the party’s problem was its insufficient criticism of President Obama’s agenda. After highlighting the electoral failures of Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, he asked: “The Obama agenda has been horrible for people, yet how many Republicans said that?” Well, Romney, for one, whose speeches often accused President Obama of having “crushed the middle class.” If there’s anything that virtually the entire GOP has been clear about for the last five years, it’s that they don’t support President Obama’s plans…
Of the Republican party’s rising stars, only one has made a serious attempt to reflect that impulse, at least in spirit, if not always in the particulars: Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.). His CPAC speech opened with a subtle counter to the partisan victory cheers of his fellow headline speakers, asking the audience to briefly imagine a future in which liberty is once again paramount in American politics. “You may think I’m talking about electing Republicans,” he said. “I’m not. I’m talking about electing lovers of liberty.” In other words, what Republicans need isn’t a vision for the party, and ideas to run on. It’s a vision for the country—and ideas to make it happen.