Ross Douthat wrote a not-awful blog post yesterday about interventionism and the 2016 presidential election. He sees Republican hawks coming out of the woodwork, and Hillary Clinton positioning herself as more of a hawk than President Obama -- and notes that this is in direct opposition to public sentiment:
What's interesting about this back-to-2004 possibility, though, is how poorly it fits with the state of public opinion at the moment.... I've seen no polling data to indicate that the post-Bush, "let's mind our own business" trend is substantially reversing. Anecdotally at least, the return of right-wing interventionism looks to me more like an elite phenomenon than a mass shift....The rise of hawkishness really does seem to be excluively an "elite phenomenon," at least so far. A round of applause to Douthat for that phrase. But does he believe this disconnect will matter in 2016?
Well, he's not convinced that it's going to slow Hillary Clinton's march to the Democratic nomination. He's more intrigued by what he thinks might happen in the GOP:
In another [scenario], she still cruises to the nomination, but her hawkishness has an unexpected effect on the Republican primary: That is, it could actually end up empowering Rand Paul.It's my gut sense that GOP base voters' inclination to oppose whatever Democrats favor tends to stop at the water's edge: they've spent nearly half a century characterizing Democrats as sandal-wearing hippies who put flowers in gun barrels and sing "Kumbaya," and they're not about to stop now.
This could happen along two vectors. First, if it's clear that the next Democratic nominee will be a liberal interventionist (one blessed by neoconservatives, at that!), the partisan, "whatever the Democrats are for I'm against" impulse among G.O.P. voters won't necessarily make a maximally hawkish line seem as compelling as it would if Obama were on the ballot a third time.... And then second, if Hillary faces only token opposition, the public's anti-interventionist inclinations could end up finding a different outlet -- in the form of higher pro-Paul turnout in primaries where independents and Democrats can cast a vote.
But I keep wondering what happens if the GOP field is a huge number of hawks dividing the hawk vote, plus one not-so-hawkish Rand Paul. He's already the front-runner according to the Real Clear Politics poll average. Paulbots are pretty good at working the levers in stare Republican parties, and are good at turning out the vote in caucus states. So maybe the majority of Republicans will still be hawks, but Paul will win, just as a (onetime) immigration reform supporter won in '08 and a (onetime) healthcare reformer won in '12.
Or is Rand Paul the Rudy Giuliani of 2016? Giuliani was the front-runner in polls a couple of years before the '08 race got under way, but then the religious right made clear that he was utterly unacceptable, and that was the end of his campaign. The hawks might be planning to do the same thing to Paul. (Philip Bump argued in The Washington Post on Wednesday that Liz and Dick Cheney's new organization is aimed at countering Paul on foreign policy.)
And then there's Fox. Yesterday I told you that Megyn Kelly's Cheney interview wasn't the pounding a lot of people claimed it was. Now I want you to watch Sean Hannity interviewing Rand Paul last night on Fox.
Hannity starts with a Dick Cheney quote from the Kelly interview, one he clearly agrees with. ("All right, that was former vice president Dick Cheney slamming the Obama administration for its failure to acknowledge that we have been and continue to be engaged in a global war on terrorism.") He then turns to Paul -- and as soon as Paul deviates from conservative correctness, he pounces. I told you yesterday that Megyn Kelly just let the Cheneys hold forth, never pressing them with tough follow-ups. What she didn't do -- because, of course, the Cheneys were reciting the Fox line -- is precisely what Hannity does in this interview when Paul deviates from the Fox line.
Paul asserts that the Iraq War made the region less stable. Hannity pounces:
Senator, let me just disagree with you, because we know that the surge worked, there was stability, violence was down to even a lower point than before the war started, democracy imperfect, but it was certainly an ally of the United States of America. The person that pulled out was the president. And George Bush warned about it. He said you can't pull out too early, you've got to provide intelligence, you've got to provide training, and if we continue to do that, the stability will remain.No, this isn't just teeing up an argument so Paul can bat it away. Paul blames the Maliki government for rejecting a residual force, and Hannity pounces again:
But Senator, you're kind of forgetting the fact that this is a decision the president made. As soon as the Americans left, literally their intelligence was cut off, and that's here their battle against the insurgency began....And on and on. Compare Hannity's jabbing to Kelly's deference (her one pseudo-provocative question notwithstanding), and you see who gets respect on Fox and who doesn't.
This could be just a taste of what the GOP establishment is going to do to Rand Paul if he seems like a danger to the philosophy of interventionism as 2016 approaches. If the establishment pulls out all the stops, and doesn't ignore the threat of Paul the way Eric Cantor ignored Dave Brat, then all the dudebros and neckbeards in America aren't going to get Paul the nomination.