Op-Ed: Perry vs. Paul battle could strengthen GOP position in 2016

Posted Jul 14, 2014 by Calvin Wolf
Republican titans Rand Paul, outspoken libertarian U.S. senator from Kentucky, and Rick Perry, outspoken longtime governor of Texas, are taking potshots at each other. Democrats should beware of the victor coming out stronger for 2016.
File photo: Rick Perry the 47th Governor of Texas
File photo: Rick Perry the 47th Governor of Texas
Photo by Gage Skidmore
In 2012 the Republican party struggled through a scorched-earth primary, with a plethora of newcomer candidates tearing each other down. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney held strong but ended up bruised and battered by jabs from Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann, and Herman Cain. This election cycle, it seems, the GOP may have learned from yesteryear's mistakes: the sparring may be held early, before official candidacies for president are announced, leaving the victor confident and unencumbered. Right now, Republican heavyweights Rand Paul, the libertarian U.S. senator from Kentucky, and Rick Perry, the longtime governor of Texas, are taking swipes at each other, reports CNN.
It is early enough in the game for either man to win a resounding victory and be strengthened via trial by fire...with enough time before the 2016 election season to heal from the burns.
The Paul vs. Perry battle is over foreign policy, with quasi-isolationist Paul squaring off against hawkish, interventionist Perry. Paul is accusing Perry of intentionally "mischaracterizing" his foreign policy views as isolationist and failing to effectively understand the Reagan-era concept of "peace through strength." Perry is accusing Paul of naivete in assuming that the United States can remain safe while refusing to intervene against terrorists and extremists growing stronger in the Middle East.
Their battle is important because foreign policy stance will likely be a Republican weakness in 2016. A trial by fire would help galvanize the Republican position on foreign policy, eliminating the weaker viewpoint. After years of attacking the Obama administration over its foreign policy foibles, Democrats are undoubtedly relishing the opportunity to strike back.
Paul's cautious approach to foreign crises could be be framed as a welcome change from the Obama administration's missteps in regard to Syria and Iraq. If you hold back, after all, you do not swing and miss. However, critics will allege that the Obama administration rarely, if even, swung...meaning that Paul is like Obama without any tough talk. But at least Paul's silence would not make him appear hypocritical, something moderates, independents, and Republicans might relish after the Obama administration's foreign policy black eyes.
Perry's aggressive approach to foreign crises could be framed as what the Obama administration should have done. Perry's supporters would argue that the U.S. would be far safer if the U.S. had intervened directly in Syria, both eliminating dictator Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons stockpile and preventing the rise of Islamist extremism in the region. Critics, however, will balk at the possibility of another Iraq debacle, which allegedly sparked greater instability in the region in the first place. "You want to 'fix' the problem by creating a new cycle of the same problem," Democrats would say. Perry risks coming off like the unpopular George W. Bush...ironic, of course, since Bush used to be Perry's boss in Austin. But moderates, independents, and Republicans might relish a straight-talking hawk after years of brewing problems that the Obama administration couldn't seem to nip in the bud.
Either position, if faithfully adhered to, could attract moderates and independents in 2016. The Perry versus Paul punch-out, therefore, should be encouraged, rather than discouraged, by Republicans. The GOP should determine a victor and build him up prior to the election season, avoiding the free-for-all mistakes of 2012.
Ring the bell for Round Three!