I’ve argued on more than one occasion that while many of the intra-GOP factional fights described as representing a “civil war” are actually sub-ideological skirmishes over strategy, tactics and rhetoric, the divisions over foreign policy are real.
In a Bloomberg column, Ramesh Ponnuru offers an interesting counter-argument: yes, the foreign policy fights we are hearing about represent stark differences, but only between marginal libertarian and neocon factions; most Republicans fall somewhere in the middle, and GOP voters aren’t really engaged on foreign policy issues anyway.
I guess this last claim would have to be based on an exclusion of Benghazi! as a foreign policy issue.
That aside, Ponnuru makes a valid point, though even he concedes changing circumstances could suddenly make foreign policy central to the national debate.
But I’d say there are some other factors that could elevate foreign policy arguments during the 2016 presidential nominating process. Traditionally, candidates (particularly governors, but also newcomers to the national scene) with limited foreign policy credentials are expected to lay out their thinking on international issues in some detail. It’s no accident that Mitt Romney’s pre-2012-cycle book, No Apologies, was heavily focused on foreign policy. When he ran for president in 2000, in a cycle where foreign policy concerns were near-invisible, George W. Bush went to the trouble of creating a credentials-heavy advisory group to give the sense he would be surrounded by global pros. And then there’s what might be called the Palin Effect: the need to show a minimal level of knowledge about world affairs and history before aspiring to a national ticket.
So you have to figure 2016 wannabes like Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz and perhaps even Jeb Bush will have to speak out on foreign policy issues sooner rather than later. The fact that they will do so in a context defined by the Paulite/Neocon spectrum of opinion means that vague waffling may not suffice. And that’s particularly true if any of these worthies hope to win the Sheldon Primary.