Sen. John McCain, whose endorsement of President Barack Obama’s plan to launch military strikes against Syria provided the president a key Republican backer, faced vocal opponents of military action during a town hall in Arizona Thursday…

“We didn’t send you to make war for us. We sent you to stop the war,” one man said to applause…

“This is what I think of Congress,” [another man] told McCain. “They are a bunch of marshmallows. That’s what they are. That’s what they’ve become. Why are you not listening to the people and staying out of Syria? It’s not our fight.”

Federal lawmakers who plan to vote in favor of a U.S. military strike against Syria “might as well start cleaning out” their office, U.S. Rep. Justin Amash said Thursday.

Amash, R-Cascade Township, tweeted that the “unprecedented level of public opposition” to military intervention in the country should beg for dissenting votes…

The sophomore lawmaker, whose mother was born in Syria, estimated 95 percent of those who turned out at meetings throughout his district were opposed to intervention.

Paul’s friends say the role of leading this bloc is a natural one for the Republican freshman. They also believe that the Syria question gives him an opportunity to dismantle his critics’ caricature of his libertarian views. His team is eager to cast Paul as an heir to Ronald Reagan, who, they argue, was frequently reluctant to involve the U.S. military in foreign civil wars. “It’s about reclaiming the party from hawks and putting us back in the mode of Reagan,” says a Paul source. “As we do that, we want to help him, so we’re pushing back really hard against the isolationism chatter. That’s not what he’s about; he’s about non-intervention and the national interest.”…

Moving ahead, Paul’s aides say the senator will spend more of his time working the inside angle against intervention. In the House, he’s working closely with Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Justin Amash of Michigan to lobby Republicans to oppose. In the Senate, he hopes to have Rubio, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Mike Lee of Utah, among others, at his side. On the outside, several tea-party groups and conservative powers, such as Heritage Action, share Paul’s position, but Paul believes his time is best spent working the phones and, when appropriate, speaking with the press. “The outside stuff is organic and not being directed by us,” says the Paul adviser. “We didn’t have to organize it; it’s happening on its own.”

Paul’s staff sees the House vote in July on Amash’s amendment to restrict the National Security Agency’s surveillance capabilities as a precedent for the kind of coalition Paul is trying to build. On that vote, liberal doves joined with Paul-aligned Republicans to nearly pass the legislation. Paul feels that if he and Amash can get that band back together, they have a shot at beating Boehner in the House and then forcing Obama’s hand. Maybe they can even get close to doing something similar in the Senate. It won’t be easy, but this is Paul’s moment, and he’s trying to make the most of it.

“What you have occurring is the first real policy engagement between a resurgent realist foreign policy worldview lead by Sen. Paul, versus the interventionist McCain and Graham wing which has been dominant in the party since 9/11,” said one Paul ally familiar with the senator’s thinking. “The debate on foreign policy and the appropriate use of U.S. military power was going to be happening at some point, but it is now happening in a case that creates an excellent opportunity for Sen. Paul.”…

If the measure fails in the House, Paul is likely to get a big piece of the credit/blame — particularly since House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) have come out in support of the resolution.

“Success for Sen. Paul on this will be demonstrating there are a larger number of Republicans, both elected and policy experts, who agree with his assessment of the situation as it relates to our national interests, the strategic objectives, and the potential consequences,” said the Paul source.

Other voices in the party are growing louder in their opposition. Sarah Palin, who defended the war in Iraq as McCain’s running mate in 2008, posted a Facebook message on Syria that declared Americans should just let “Allah sort it out.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, has questions about the motives of the Syrian opposition fighting against the government there. He said the airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would turn the U.S. military into “al Qaeda’s Air Force.”…

Nowhere is that tension more obvious than with Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican and another potential 2016 presidential candidate, who seems torn between McCain and Paul on the issue.

Rubio made clear that he did not support any U.S. military action in Syria. “We’re not talking about American troops on the ground,” he said. “We’re not talking about U.S. air power, we’re not talking about sending American soldiers or even American trainers into Syria. We’re talking about providing ammunition. That’s all we’re talking about doing.”

Rubio’s office also pointed to a long list of statements going back to 2011 in which Rubio advocated a variety of measures against Syria — mostly sanctions against the Assad regime — but not any sort of U.S. military action. “I describe Rubio’s foreign policy as being somewhere in between Rand Paul and John McCain,” said one aide Wednesday. “He’s not an isolationist, but he’s very cautious about engaging militarily overseas.” Rubio’s committee vote on Wednesday against the Obama intervention resolution, the aide said, is entirely consistent with Rubio’s long-held positions.

On the other hand, let’s imagine that things play out differently. Let’s imagine the political winds shift, as they often do (think about how bad Hillary’s vote for Iraq looked a couple years later). What if Republicans return to a more traditional (at least, in modern terms) position on foreign affairs, and suddenly they crave a strong Commander in Chief who puts dictators in line?

If that happens, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — who is already perfectly-cast to play the role of a strong executive who puts other countries back in line — will remind voters that his opponents allowed a dictator to use chemical weapons – and didn’t do anything about it…

If the establishment hawks and the neocons circle the wagons around Christie — if he is able to “own” that brand and have it all to himself — one imagines that would translate into a lot of money and support for Christie. It’s one way he could emerge as the lone establishment candidate. Christie would love that, inasmuch as we could see a repeat of 2008 and 2012, where conservatives split the vote and allowed an establishment candidate to win the nomination.

“Right now, the easy Republican vote looks like the vote against Obama,” said Michael Goldfarb, a neoconservative lobbyist and writer. “Ten days from now, a vote against Obama could look like a vote for Assad, especially if Republicans succeed in blocking U.S. action, and Assad goes on to prevail, having used chemical weapons, with Iran at his side.”

Mr. Goldfarb’s message to Congressional Republicans is this: “Voting to let an Iranian proxy keep killing his own people with weapons of mass destruction may be as risky as it sounds.”…

“Isolationist tendencies don’t do well in American politics over the long run,” Mr. Senor said.

This was once a great land that asked not what oppressed people could do for themselves; it asked, instead, what we could do for them. Today, every urge to rescue others, to intervene on the side of the murdered underdogs, is met by many in this country with accusations of imperialism. Our loss of righteous strength—strength that was once this country’s greatest asset—is now celebrated by many Americans, including those who write for this publication: in tones that are akin to ululation, David Stockman, who once worked for the Reagan White House, celebrates the end of America’s “Imperium,” of the “American warfare state.” As someone who has elected to live in this country by moral choice, I say to Stockman (in echo of Kipling): … what should they know of America who only America know?

How did we come to this state? I refer not only to the Stockmans (who, mercifully, are of no political consequence), but also to Rep. Rand Paul, who will not do the right thing by innocent Syrians because he wishes to cut Barack Obama not an inch of slack. Rand Paul is a hideous isolationist. I happen to be rereading The Bonfire of the Vanities, and early in the book a bond trader called Rawlie Thorpe tells Sherman McCoy, the novel’s central character, “If you want to live in New York, you’ve got to insulate, insulate, insulate”—meaning, insulate yourself from anyone who might cause you discomfort, inconvenience, a moment’s moral reckoning. “If you could go breezing down the FDR Drive in a taxi, then why file into the trenches of the urban wars?” Rand Paul, meet Rawlie Thorpe.

Via Mediaite.

Via MFP.