Military strength and international leadership have been traditional advantages for the Republican Party in presidential elections. In 2008 these strengths turned into a political liability, as a war-weary electorate looked to a freshman United States Senator who opposed the war in Iraq and promised to bring our troops home. President Obama has interpreted this public sentiment as a mandate to diminish the role of the United States on the world stage.
After six years of complacent leadership from President Obama, times are changing. With every new crisis on the world stage, President Obama’s lack of strategy and weak leadership become more obvious. The American people may not want to intervene in all of the world’s conflicts, but they certainly still expect strong and determined leadership from the Commander in Chief. In the next presidential election, they may not want a no-holds-barred hawk in the White House, but their votes will be influenced by the candidate who communicates a coherent and consistent strategic vision for our country.
Now is the time for the GOP to unite around the reassertion of American leadership and military strength. As Republicans prepare to begin choosing our party’s nominee, they need to demonstrate we have the global vision to protect and defend America and its interests.
For sure, there is a debate going on in the Republican Party between serious contenders about what that vision looks like. It’s a healthy debate and one that should produce a candidate that embodies the strong, determined leadership the American people still expect from the president.
Most notable are the differences between Kentucky Senator Rand Paul – whom critics call an isolationist – and the traditional hawkish wing of the Republican Party.
Many political observers view Senator Rand Paul as too far removed from the mainstream to appeal to the party’s more hawkish base. This is not entirely accurate. He supported military intervention in Afghanistan and in response to Putin’s power move in Crimea espoused that “we live in an interconnected world, and the United States has a vital role in the stability of that world.”
Paul faces some serious challenges appealing to the Republican base on foreign policy, but he is resonating well with Republicans who originally supported the war in Iraq, only to feel in retrospect that the decision may have been made on faulty information. In many ways Paul reflects this public sentiment and will force other potential nominees to acknowledge it and make the case for why military intervention is the best approach for America.
Senator Marco Rubio, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is in a unique position to act as a foil to Paul’s more isolationist views. His more hawkish stance falls in line with Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who have advocated for foreign intervention as a means to establish stability and promote American interests. In turn, his foreign policy views and his position in the Senate make him a natural fit as an advocate for those who expect military strength as a requirement for the GOP nomination.