I mentioned Ted Cruz’s strutting speech to the Value Voters Summit earlier today. But another star speaker was Rand Paul, Cruz’ potential 2016 rival for the “constitutional conservative” vote in the 2016 Republican presidential nomination contest. Paul is making a true art form of linking his familial non-interventionism to fidelity to Christianity. Katie Glueck of Politico reports on his VVS performance of this aria:

Sen. Rand Paul on Friday detailed his opposition to sending foreign aid to many places in the Middle East, arguing that doing so will fuel a “worldwide war on Christianity.”

“We are now arming Islamic rebels who are allied with Al Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11,” Paul (R-Ky.) said, speaking to the Values Voter Summit. “Does that make any sense at all? American tax dollars should never be spent to prop up a war on Christianity. But that’s what’s happening now across the globe.”

Paul said that in places like Egypt and Syria, American aid is assisting radical Islamic groups that target Christians. He has often clashed with members of his party, such as Arizona Sen. John McCain, over foreign aid.

It’s fascinating, eh? The neocons used to be expert at exploiting conservative evangelical sentiments in promoting interventions in the Middle East that involved alliances with “friendly” Muslims. But belief in “friendly” Muslims has become collateral damage to Islamophobic trends on the Right, and Paul is cleverly implying that our only real “friend” in the Middle East is Israel–rather ironic, given that pro-Israeli interests in the U.S. were forever accusing his old man of anti-Zionism if not anti-semitism.

So I’d say Paul has scored not a bullseye but at least a strategic half-victory in decontaminating his non-intenventionism to conservatives who are torn between wanting to blow up other countries and eschewing interventions because they often involve limitations on our brawling sovereignty such as allies, treaties and rules of engagement.

On a related note, Jonathan Martin of the New York Times reports that Cruz and Paul were given sort of a private audience with VVS attendees yesterday, presumably as the front-runners for their affections in 2016.

The hosts include Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, the former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, the conservative talk show host Janet Parshall and Richard Viguerie, the direct mail pioneer, along with a handful of others from the conservative movement. Mr. [Robert] Fischer is the group’s chief organizer.

The same group met in the midst of the last two Republican presidential nominating fights. But after Republicans failed to nominate a Christian conservative in either race, many of the activists concluded they must begin to discuss potential candidates well before the next campaign begins.

Wouldn’t you have loved to have been a fly on the wall at that meeting?

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.