by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
It’s on! Ostensible allies for the last couple of years, senators Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and Rand Paul (R., Ky.) have commenced the battle for the unofficial title of conservative front-runner. That’s no surprise, but what is remarkable is their choice of weapons: foreign policy. For the last several years, there has been a lot of overblown hype about how the GOP, particularly the party base, is becoming isolationist. So it’s interesting that Cruz would seek to get to Paul’s right on the issue.
The first round began in earnest less than 24 hours after Paul — to no one’s surprise — won the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll by a country mile. (Ron and Rand Paul have always overperformed in such contests, and Rand has his father’s machine working for him.)
“I’m a big fan of Rand Paul. He and I are good friends. I don’t agree with him on foreign policy,” Cruz said on ABC’s This Week. “I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world, and I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force abroad. But I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did. . . . The United States has a responsibility to defend our values.”
Paul responded almost immediately with an op-ed for Breitbart that was, depending on your reading, either a gentle rebuke or a not-so-passive-aggressive attack on Cruz. “Some politicians,” he wrote, “have used this time to beat their chest. What we don’t need right now is politicians who have never seen war talking tough for the sake of their political careers.”
Titled “Stop Warping Reagan’s Foreign Policy,” Paul’s op-ed is a clever bit of rhetorical jujitsu in which he criticizes others for using Reagan’s legacy while at the same time enlisting it for his own purposes. Paul offers a version of his father’s effort — during the 2008 and 2012 presidential primaries — to cast the Gipper as a noninterventionist who was plagued by hawks to his right.
Any analysis that casts the passionate anti-Communist invader of Grenada (without congressional approval), supporter of the Contras and Afghan mujahideen, champion of missile defense, bomber of Libya, and winner of the Cold War as a noninterventionist certainly gets points for creativity.