On Monday I wrote about the battle of foreign policy op-eds between Rick Perry and Rand Paul and why it might be a sign of things to come. For my weekly TPMCafe column, I looked at the rift from a historical perspective, and realized we’re at a very interesting moment:
Republican unity on foreign policy and national security matters during the long period since “isolationists” and “internationalists” battled for party supremacy in the age of Taft and Dewey has been remarkable, particularly when compared to the frequent struggles among Democrats. The Donkey Party, after all, experienced major ruptures over Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s, and over Iraq in the early aughts, and less traumatic but significant bouts of dissension over the Nicaraguan contras and nuclear policy in the 1980s, and over the First Gulf War in 1991. Yes, there was scattered GOP opposition to LBJ’s and Nixon’s Vietnam policies and a brief conservative reaction against Nixon’s and Ford’s detente strategy with the Soviet Union. And throughout the period of consensus, there were small bands of paleoconservative and libertarian dissenters against Cold War and post-Cold War GOP orthodoxy. But unless you think Pat Buchanan’s paleoconservative foreign policy views were a significant spur to his occasionally impressive 1992 and 1996 primary challenges (I don’t), none of this dissent rose to the level of a real challenge to party leadership, and generally lay outside the mainstream of conservative opinion.
That all may be coming to an end in 2016, depending on how various candidates for president choose to position themselves.
They may all be calling out the name of Ronald Reagan with every other breath, but there’s no longer a clear and comprehensive orthodox conservative position on America’s role in the world, beyond impulses like supporting whatever Israel does and spending more money on defense and killing Muslims whenever it’s convenient. Achieving artificial unity via opposition to a Democratic president won’t work as well in a GOP presidential nominating contest to succeed him.