Matt Lewis

Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and the cold war over the GOP’s heart and soul

“It’s not just Rand’s vote that Rubio needs but the people who will come along with him,” said senior Rand Paul aide Doug Stafford, according to a new National Journal report.

What makes this quote remarkable is its honesty. Rarely are top operatives so transparent in their political calculations. But he’s exactly right. And as the column notes, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul have a mutually beneficial relationship when it comes to immigration reform. Rubio needs Paul to give him additional conservative cover. And Paul needs Rubio to help soften his hard, libertarian, edges.

The backdrop to all of this, of course, is that these two men are likely to compete for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, which will occur just six years after the duo were swept into office, both having defeated establishment Republican alternatives amid the tea party zeitgeist of 2010.


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While immigration may be the issue of the moment, the coming clash might be over foreign policy. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake has penned a thought-provoking and nuanced column on that very topic.

The stereotype is to say that Paul is an isolationist and Rubio is an interventionist, but that’s both boring and simplistic, and Blake wisely avoids that trap.

This is by design. Rubio is always sure to say, as he did at the Faith and Freedom Coalition event: “I’m not advocating that Americans get engaged in every conflict on the planet and get involved in civil war.” Meanwhile, as Jennifer Rubin noted after his foreign policy speech at Heritage, Paul usually seeks to occupy a “middle ground between hyper-isolation and hyper-intervention.”

This is very shrewd for both men. But has there ever been a humanitarian crisis that Rubio didn’t want us to get involved in? Has there ever been a conflict that Paul thought actually did require American intervention? Maybe. But nothing comes to mind. Both men are so good at couching their different positions with caveats and moderate-sounding rhetoric that you have to read between the lines.