Peter King for president? The Long Island congressman gave an interview to ABC News yesterday and acknowledged that it was a possibility.
The most telling line from King was this:
My concern is, and this is why I think people came to me, is that right now no presidential contender in the Republican Party is talking seriously about national defense.
The fact that King views national defense as his niche issue – and the fact that he was apparently approached by others who think similarly – illustrates the foreign policy rift in the Republican Party. King ridiculed Rand Paul, often seen as the leader of the more dovish wing, as someone whose “main concern seems to be that some guy sitting at a Starbucks drinking coffee is going to get killed by a CIA drone.” King later called Paul’s views “isolationist” during a heated debate with MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough.
Jonathan Tobin of Commentary magazine argued this morning that, while a King presidential run might not be successful, it would spotlight security issues in a needed way:
[R]ather than denouncing Paul’s attempt to undermine the national consensus on the war against Islamist terror, most prominent Republicans have ignored it or given it tacit support. Like former ambassador John Bolton, who sent up some smoke signals of his own last month about a presidential run, all King is doing is alerting us to the fact that someone needs to put forward a coherent response to Paul that will assure the country that the GOP hasn’t retreated into an isolationist funk that will undermine any hope that it can appeal to moderates or Reagan Democrats who will never vote for an isolationist.
I wrote a piece earlier this week speculating that Liz Cheney’s candidacy in Wyoming represents an attempt by hawkish Republicans to push back against foreign policy moderates like Paul, who have gained hefty influence in the Senate. King’s warning about the GOP’s drift on national defense is further evidence that the hawks are concerned and searching for a champion to counter Paul. There is a very real, often downplayed disagreement within the GOP, between those who want to retain the essential foreign policy of the Bush administration and those who think it’s time for a more realist approach. If either King or Bolton is serious about 2016, and if Paul runs as expected, that disagreement could bubble to the surface of the primary.
Daniel Larison expressed skepticism over my piece on Liz Cheney, arguing that I was underestimating just how hawkish the young Republicans in the Senate really are. He may have a point; Exhibit A would be Sen. Ted Cruz’s scathing attacks on Chuck Hagel during his confirmation hearing. But both King and Tobin mention Cruz as a sort of Rand Paul Lite when it comes to foreign policy, suggesting that there’s a significant degree of difference even between Cruz and many interventionists.
Imagine that you’re a hawk in the mold of Peter King and Commentary magazine. You watch as Rand Paul takes to the Senate floor to filibuster over the Obama administration’s refusal to place limits on its domestic use of drones, a concern that you immediately dismiss as paranoid and baseless. But Paul keeps going and he’s soon won the support of most conservative activists and many liberal thinkers too. At the end, the most powerful Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, comes down to voice his support. The next day, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham voice what will be the only real response on the Senate floor. They come off as nasty and sneering—an optics disaster.
At that point, you’re probably thinking: “Holy God, we need to regain some momentum here.”
That momentum won’t come from King, whose presidential candidacy is unlikely to get off the ground. But Liz Cheney—young and articulate with name recognition and some support from the conservative base—could be the hawks’ great new hope.