McCain and Graham as Obama’s “Lapdogs”

If Lindsey Graham is indeed entering the 2016 presidential race to make sure the military-industrial complex’s concerns about Rand Paul are fully and loudly and at every moment placed within sight and sound of media and voters alike, he’s getting a rise out of Paul, all right. Dig this rhetoric from the Kentuckian (per Nick Gass at Politico):

Lindsey Graham and John McCain are “lapdogs” for President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, Rand Paul said Tuesday, at once firing back at recent remarks from the hawkish Republicans and seeking to distinguish his defense credentials.

“This comes from a group of people wrong about every policy issue over the last two decades,” the Kentucky Republican said in an interview with Fox News, touting his credentials as the “one standing up to President Obama….”

“They supported Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya; they supported President Obama’s bombing of Assad; they also support President Obama’s foreign aid to countries that hate us. So if there is anyone who is most opposed to President Obama’s foreign policy, it’s me. People who call loudest to criticize me are great proponents of President Obama’s foreign policy — they just want to do it ten times over,” he said.

Putting aside any analysis of the truth or error of what Paul is saying here about Obama, Graham/McCain, or himself, what’s interesting here is that he’s showing every sign of wanting a big debate within the GOP on foreign policy and national security; the “lapdog” line is media-bait of the highest order. I had figured up until now that his strategy would be to get close enough to the rest of the field on international issues so as to take them off the table as “differentiators”–or in other words neutralize them–and then change the subject to topics where his views are more congenial to Republican primary voters. But maybe that’s not it at all.

Whether or not you think it’s fair to call the views Paul articulated above as “isolationist,” they are definitely within the universe of views most Republicans have called “isolationist” since the Eisenhower administration. And Paul is talking this way at a time when the GOP rank-and-file’s support for lashing out at Muslims via military interventions–partly out of genuine if irrational fear of IS and of Iran as well–appears to be back to mid-2000s levels or even higher.

We’ll see if Paul keeps this up. Maybe he’d do better to conjure up a little of the old Cold War spirit by calling his opponents Obama’s “running dogs.”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.