Floundering Old Guard Republicans re-launch attacks on Rand Paul

Back in March, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) propelled himself to the forefront of Republican politics when he led an inspiring 13-hour filibuster against the confirmation of CIA nominee John Brennan.

For the entirety of his procedural protest, Paul and several of his colleagues, most notably Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT), highlighted the constitutional problems with President Barack Obama’s drones policy, which is largely consistent with the views of his hawkish predecessor and many of today’s conservatives. Paul would go onto win the CPAC straw poll the following week and has been a frequent voice of opposition to the Washington political establishment on foreign policy.

The reaction from the Old Guard Republicans was expected. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ) both sided with President Obama on drones and foreign policy and admonished Paul from the Senate floor with the latter referring to his colleague from Kentucky a “wacko bird.” Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, called Paul’s foreign policy views “dangerous” and tried to label him as an “neo-isolationist.” Jennifer Rubin, the Washington Post’s token Republican, has also taken shots at Paul on foreign policy, though with little effect.

These numerous attacks on Paul’s constitutional approach to foreign policy and civil liberties simply haven’t worked. The hawkish foreign views that were so prominent during George W. Bush’s presidency have lost credibility as many conservatives now embrace a skeptical approach to foreign intervention.

Rush Limbaugh has made note of this. Just after Paul’s filibuster, Limbaugh told his audience that Paul has ”totally upset the power structure in Washington.”

“Somebody challenged the [Obama] administration and they’re alive today to talk about it, and they’re heroes. They’re heroes,” added Limbaugh. “I’ll tell you who else upset by this…the neocons are paranoid. The neocons are paranoid because Rand Paul comes from his father’s gene pool.”

But the attacks on Paul took a turn last week when the Washington Free Beacon reported on the controversial views of one of his staffers.

Jack Hunter, who works as Paul’s social media director, was formerly a shock jock and columists. Among his columists, Hunter expressed pro-secessionist views and, being from South Carolina, had an affinity for the South. The Free Beacon cherry-picked Hunter’s columns in an attempt to paint him in the worst possible light while putting heavy emphasis on his connection to Paul, including co-authorship of the Kentucky Senator’s 2011 book, The Tea Party Goes to Washington.

Of course, the Free Beacon made no mention of Hunter’s support of civil rights or the work he did on then-Sen. Jim DeMint’s 2012 book, Now or Never: Saving America from Economic Collapse. It’s worth noting that the Free Beacon is owned by the Center for American Freedom, a conservative non-profit that promotes hawkish foreign policy. Bill Kristol, a frequent critic of Paul’s foreign policy views, sits on its governing board.

Make no mistake about it, this wasn’t about Jack Hunter; it was about Rand Paul.

Hawkish Republicans immediately seized on the comments. For example, Seth Mandel, assistant editor of Commentary, questioned Paul’s integrity, Jennifer Rubin once again attacked his foreign policy views, and Philip Klein wrote that the Senator is “not ready for primetime.”

Clearly, there is an orchestrated effort to try to take down Paul before the 2016 presidential primary. And while Kristol and company may be proud that they’ve finally put Paul on defense, others see it as another part of the civil war currently taking place between the GOP’s political establishment and the grassroots.

“This has sadly become standard protocol for the neocon wing of the Republican Party. Their priority is not to advance freedom, it’s to shift spending from domestic to defense, smearing the reputations of libertarians that get in their way,” wrote a senior staffer at a DC-based organization. “They have no concern for the collateral damage to the small-government movement, because they’re only part-time members of it.”

What hawkish Republicans seem to be missing is how out of touch they are on foreign policy with most Americans. It obviously remains to be seen what, if any, damage they’ll inflict on Paul before 2016. But if they are ultimately successful at undermining his candidacy in favor of someone who fits their views — such as Marco Rubio or John Bolton, who appears to be laying the groundwork for a presidential campaign — they will lose yet another election.


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