The Republican Party remains deeply divided over foreign policy. During the George W. Bush administration, the many Americans who turned against the Iraq war included a lot of Republicans. Today, 63 percent of Republicans believe the Iraq war wasn’t worth it, according to a recent poll. But of course, there's still a vocal contingent of hawkish Republicans who strongly disagree. Just as Cruz described it, the party is torn between the McCain wing that wants to see a more muscular posture for America abroad, even if it costs taxpayers money, and the Paul wing that wants to cut back on defense spending and foreign entanglements.
There has been no reckoning post-Bush between the two sides of this intraparty argument, as Chris Cillizza smartly notes. The party’s presidential nominees since Bush—McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012—were both on the McCain end of the spectrum; big donors like Sheldon Adelson and party elites, many of whom are Bush administration veterans, are largely in the hawks’ camp as well. But Paul believes that the base of the party—as the poll on Iraq and others suggest—is increasingly on his side. Perry may be trying to cozy up to the establishment by taking on Paul, aligning himself with those who see themselves as the party’s grown-up wing. But Paul believes he wins with the public, and with Republican primary voters, by articulating his noninterventionist views.
Paul is not, however, running a purely anti-establishment presidential campaign. Quite the contrary, he’s assiduously courted major donors and party insiders, seeking to reassure them that he’s more grounded than his father, former member of Congress and three-time presidential candidate Ron Paul. That’s why both his Perry and Cruz op-eds have, once you get past the name-calling, sought to emphasize common ground and rebut the "isolationist" charge. “Regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ... there is little difference among most Republicans on what to do,” he wrote in response to Cruz in March. “All of us believe we should stand up to Putin's aggression. Virtually no one believes we should intervene militarily.” Responding to Perry this week, Paul wrote, “Some of Perry’s solutions for the current chaos in Iraq aren’t much different from what I’ve proposed .... Because interestingly enough, there aren’t that many good choices right now in dealing with this situation in Iraq.”
Despite the high-profile spats with fellow Republicans, Paul would surely argue he's trying not to deepen the party's divisions but to unite the GOP around common goals. In both pieces, Paul repeatedly invokes Reagan’s doctrine of “peace through strength” and makes the case that Reagan was less interventionist than many who invoke his name today. (As Peter Beinart notes in this trenchant analysis, Paul is both right and wrong about Reagan, whose foreign policy was quite aggressive even if it didn’t often involve boots on the ground.) He is seizing on every opportunity to clarify and explain a set of views that he sees as nuanced and commonsensical, and to defend them against the critique that they amount to mere withdrawal from the world.