Former McCain chief of staff: If Rand Paul is the 2016 nominee, Republicans concerned with national security will have to support Hillary

I’m two weeks late on this and wouldn’t have noticed it at all had the key bit not been quoted in this weekend’s NYT op-ed on the (potential) great Hillary/neoconservative alliance.

But it should be noticed.

The shortcomings of President Obama as a statesman are numerous and obvious. He may be the worst foreign policy president in my lifetime, surpassing even the inept Jimmy Carter. Almost any one of the serious 2016 presidential candidates in either of our major parties would be an improvement over the incumbent commander-in-chief.

The glaring exception is the junior senator from Kentucky. His foreign policy views, steeped as they are in the crackpot theories that inform his father’s worldview, are so ill-conceived that were he to win the nomination, Republican voters seriously concerned with national security would have no responsible recourse other than to vote for Hillary Clinton.

It’s not just any Capitol Hill apparatchik who wrote that. It’s Mark Salter, Maverick’s right-hand man for 20 years, chief speechwriter during his 2008 presidential campaign, and co-author of numerous books with McCain. If he’s thinking this way, it makes me wonder what McCain’s thinking. And if McCain’s thinking this way, it makes me wonder what sort of schism we might see in 2016 if Rand ends up as the nominee. I wrote about that last year. Maverick will deny it (for now), of course, but I’ve always thought there’s a real chance that he’d cross the aisle and endorse Hillary if Paul wins the Republican nomination. Joe Lieberman did it for him in 2008 in the name of national security, remember. McCain would simply be repaying the kindness to another hawkish Democrat. (With a speaking gig at the Dem convention, maybe?) What he ends up doing will depend on whether he decides to run for Senate again in 2016 after all. Can’t run as a Republican if you’re backing a Democrat for the White House that November, right? Either Maverick would have to retire, leaving him free to endorse who he likes, or he’ll have to play ball with Paul 2016. Although, McCain being McCain, maybe he’d enjoy the challenge of sticking it to the “wacko birds” by endorsing Hillary and winning the Republican primary anyway. If he ends up losing, he can always blame the “ideological extremists” in his own party and go out a martyr.

Via the Right Scoop, here’s Maverick doing his best to deflect a Hillary question this weekend. By the way, how soon before we see Team Rand reaching out to McCain to find common ground? They know there’s a chance that McCain would cross the aisle if Paul’s the nominee and they know that could be damaging in feeding the “Paul’s too extreme” narrative that Democrats will be pushing to undecideds. They can live with him staying neutral, probably, but that may come at a price. What’s the price? Or does this matter at all given that there are likely to be other prominent hawks, starting with Dick Cheney, who walk away from the GOP in 2016 if Paul’s the nominee? Obviously it matters to Hillary — she’d much rather tout McCain’s endorsement than Cheney’s given their respective levels of public approval — but we’re destined to have a big-name GOP defection or two in 2016 if Paul’s the pick no matter what McCain does. Salter’s column is an early warning.