A feud over foreign policy between Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Rand Paul is heating up as both Republicans eye their party’s mantle for the 2016 presidential election.
The clash between the two conservative lawmakers exposes a widening rift in the GOP between the party’s traditionally hawkish establishment and a less interventionist wing fueled by the public’s fatigue with foreign wars.
Perry, once an early favorite of Tea Party-aligned conservatives in the 2012 campaign, hopes to take up a Reaganite rallying cry of “peace through strength,” echoing establishment Republicans who grumble that the dialing back of American military presence in the Middle East has sparked instability in the region. Paul, whose libertarian streak has earned him a strong position in the early jockeying for the next run for the White House, has based his nascent presidential platform on civil liberties, a smaller defense footprint and a less aggressive U.S. stance in world affairs.
The war of words between the two men – each fashioning himself as a Beltway outsider - has played out in op-eds in DC-based newspapers over the last few days.
Last week, Perry – who’s already been generating headlines for his criticism of the president over immigration policy - slammed Paul’s “isolationist policies” in a Washington Post op-ed, calling the Kentucky lawmaker “curiously blind” to the threats posed to America’s national security by Islamic extremists.
On Monday, Paul struck back, with a bonus dig at the trendy new eyewear sported by the Texas governor – a look observers say may be designed to boost Perry’s intellectual credibility.
“Apparently his new glasses haven’t altered his perception of the world, or allowed him to see it any more clearly,” Paul wrote in a POLITICO op-ed titled “Rick Perry is Dead Wrong.”
Noting Perry’s support for returning troops to Iraq, Paul writes that “On foreign policy, Perry couldn’t be more stuck in the past, doubling down on formulas that haven’t worked, parroting rhetoric that doesn’t make sense and reinforcing petulant attitudes that have cost our nation a great deal.”
Apparently his new glasses haven’t altered his perception of the world, or allowed him to see it any more clearly
Paul’s stance appears to be more aligned with public opinion overall. An April NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed that just 19 percent of Americans say that the United States should be more active in world affairs, versus 47 percent who said the country should take a less active role globally.
Within Paul and Perry’s party, the numbers are also split. A plurality of Republicans – 45 percent – say they’d like America to take a step back on world affairs, compared to three in ten who say they want to see more engagement and 21 percent who say the current level of activity is correct.