Rand Paul: It's McCain and Lindsey Graham who are "lapdogs" for Obama's foreign policy, not me

Via RCP, a smart, well prepared retort to superhawks like Graham, who’s already started beating on Paul during his quasi-2016 media tour. Rand seems to relish taking tropes that are common to interventionist critiques and turning them against his interventionist critics. Back in December, after Rubio tore into him for supporting Obama’s outreach to Cuba, Paul accused Rubio of behaving like an “isolationist” for refusing to engage diplomatically with a neighbor. Same move here. It’s not me who’s a shill for Obama’s foreign policy, says Paul, it’s McCain, Graham, and the other hawks who unfailingly cheer O on every time he intervenes somewhere abroad, pausing occasionally to criticize him only for not intervening more forcefully. I wonder if Rand likes that sort of tu quoque on a visceral level, because he enjoys watching hawks squirm when they get accused of “weakness” or being dupes for Obama, or if there’s a strategy behind it. Probably both: A counterattack like this could work better than we think at the debates, when plenty of low-information Republican voters will be watching without much of a sense of how Paul differs from conventional GOP hawkery. That’s why critiques about “isolationism” and shilling for Obama are so potent and dangerous to him potentially. The average Republican voter may not know the ins and outs of foreign conflicts and whether intervening is a good or bad idea, but hearing that Rand Paul is on Obama’s side on some of them will be received as shorthand for “Rand Paul is weak and too far left.” Paul’s strategy is to counter that by pointing out how many times hawks have been on Obama’s side too. Even if he doesn’t win many voters over with that argument, it’ll be a huge victory for him if he succeeds in neutralizing hawkish attacks by convincing Republicans that his points of agreement with O are really no more damning than Graham’s are.

But will it work? What you’re seeing in the clip is a classic libertarian critique of Obama’s foreign policy. Conservatives view O as weak and passive, the quintessential liberal Democrat; libertarians view him as overly aggressive, the quintessential post-9/11 overreaching pol. Paul’s trying to find the lowest common denominator between those positions — “Obama can’t be trusted with national defense” — in hopes that mainstream righties will see Rand as “one of us” on foreign policy even if they don’t agree with him on the particulars. Because, let’s face it, that’s really what the foreign policy attacks on Paul are about, especially among casual voters: Is he one of us? “At least as much as John McCain is” is the message Rand’s tacitly settled on. Gonna be hard to pull that off when there are 18 other guys onstage insisting it’s not true and when Rand is on record as supporting continuing negotiations with Iran at a moment when most GOP pols are urging O to pull the plug, but that’s his task. Hammering the point that he’s opposed Obama as much as the interventionists have is a shrewd place to start.

Exit question: With no fewer than three Republicans set to jump into the race for the sole purpose of kneecapping Rand Paul, how come Paulworld hasn’t convinced any libertarians to jump in on his behalf and act as an attack dog against the interventionists? Justin Amash seems like the perfect guy for that sort of thing. He’s a Paulite, he seems to enjoy battling with hawks, and he’d benefit from the exposure in case he ever decides to run for Senate. There’s got to be enough money among Ron Paul’s famously loyal donors to support two libertarian candidacies, one of which would be operating on a shoestring purely in the interest of getting Amash into the debates. You think the rEVOLution would enjoy watching him counterattack Lindsey Graham onstage by wondering just how many wars he and McCain would like to see the U.S. waging across the globe simultaneously? C’mon. The fact that no one’s floated the idea of giving Rand a libertarian sidekick onstage makes me think that maybe his team is worried that having a “purer,” less compromising libertarian in the mix might backfire spectacularly by drawing Ron Paul voters from Rand to Amash. I guess Paul’s on his own.

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