Call it the anti-Rand primary.
There are at least three Republicans who seem likely to run for president in part so they can attack Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s libertarian-leaning foreign policy stances on the campaign trail.
These anti-Rand candidates — South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, former U.N. ambassador John Bolton and New York Rep. Peter King — are ramping up their criticism especially now that Paul has officially entered the race for the White House.
All three are the longest of long shots when it comes to actually winning their party’s nomination. But each of them — national security hawks who dismissively label Paul an “isolationist” — could cause issues for the senator by attacking his more restrained foreign policy views during nationally televised debates.
Asked about these attacks, one Paul adviser said in an email: “These politicians do a disservice to the American people when they mischaracterize Sen. Paul’s foreign policy views. Unsurprisingly, facts are not the strong suit of politicians to whom war is the only answer for every challenge.”
“These are the same politicians who claimed before the Iraq war that Saddam Hussein supported al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks,” the Paul aide added. “Despite a worsening insurgency, these are the politicians who proclaimed in 2005 that in Iraq ‘things are changing for the better.’”
In recent weeks, the Graham-Bolton-King trio has pummeled Paul. “The Lindsey Graham view of foreign policy is going to beat Rand Paul’s libertarian view of foreign policy,” the South Carolina senator told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” this weekend, also saying there’s a “91 percent” chance he will challenge Paul in the GOP primary.
Appearing on Morning Joe on Monday, Graham continued going after Paul’s views on foreign policy: “Generally speaking, he’s been more wrong than right. He has a isolationist view of the world that I don’t share.”
Bolton, who served at the United Nations under George W. Bush and has traveled to events in Iowa and New Hampshire, recently suggested he doesn’t trust Paul when he takes more hawkish positions as of late, like when he recently said he supported an increase of military spending.
“On any given day, it’s hard to know where he will be,” Bolton told the Associated Press earlier this month of Paul. “I believe in redemption, and I hope he comes all the way over. But I just don’t know what’s at work in his mind.”
Speaking to The Daily Caller after November’s midterms, Bolton acknowledged he was thinking of running for president partly out of a concern about Paul’s influence in the party.
“I do think the threat of isolationism is still there in the party,” Bolton said. “And I think that’s something that is of very much concern to me.”
King, a New York Republican who serves on the House Intelligence and Homeland Security committees, rails against Texas Sen. Ted Cruz as much as he criticizes Paul. (He recently told Wolf Blitzer on CNN he would jump off a bridge if Cruz would become the Republican nominee for president).
“His views would basically remove the U.S. from having a real role to play in the world, and his mindset — when you look at things he’s said over the years, in effect blaming the United States for problems around the world, somehow that it’s our fault,” King said of Paul on CNN recently. “To me that’s a bad mindset for the commander-in-chief of the United States to be going into office with.”
Paul, for his part, is portraying these critics as warmongers.
“Unlike these politicians,” the Paul aide said, “Sen. Paul believes that a strong national defense doesn’t rush to send our men and women in uniform to war. He believes that America shouldn’t fight wars that aren’t authorized by Congress, and that there must be a clear objective for any intervention.”
Added the aide: “Sen. Paul’s principles have resonated with voters who believe in a thoughtful foreign policy, and Americans can see through the hypocrisy of Washington elites who rely on the military-industrial complex to fill their campaign, think tank, and PAC coffers.”