Governor Chris Christie has experience with a lot of things, but foreign policy isn’t one of them. So two years ago, when he was mulling over a presidential run, he was invited to meet Nixon’s former national security wizard Henry Kissinger. “I haven’t given any deep thought to foreign policy,” Christie told him, according to Washington Post reporter Dan Balz. “Don’t worry about that,” said Kissinger. “We can work with you on that.”
Fast-forward to today and Christie’s calling Rand Paul’s dovish foreign policy “dangerous.”
Yesterday, I wondered about the foreign policy views of another governor and possible 2016 presidential contender, Scott Walker. Daniel Larison reminds us of something important:
Walker is reportedly putting together a campaign book and he’s having Marc Thiessen write it. I suppose it’s possible that Walker could choose to work with Thiessen without knowing about or agreeing with the latter’s extremely hawkish views on national security, but it seems unlikely. Put another way, if you were a politician interested positioning yourself “somewhere in between” Paul and Christie on national security issues, would you select an ardent defender of Bush-era torture methods as your ghostwriter? No, you wouldn’t.
Thiessen is one of the most ardent defenders of the Bush Doctrine and recently derided GOPers who voted to limit the NSA’s surveillance powers as “John Kerry Republicans.” I think Larison is right: If Walker decides Thiessen is the best choice to chronicle his governorship, then he’s probably not going to come down on Rand Paul’s side.
Governors are often touted as better presidential candidates than senators or congressmen because they have executive experience in government. This is true as far as domestic issues go, but governors also don’t have to vote on international affairs, which leaves them with little expertise on foreign policy. I’ve speculated before that the hawkish establishment of the GOP is looking for influence both in the Senate and the 2016 presidential field to counter vocal realists like Rand Paul. With regards to the presidency, they’re unlikely to find that influence with someone like Rep. Peter King, who’s been making noises about running but has little visibility.
A more effective presidential strategy is to woo a conservative governor—a domestic success but a blank canvas on foreign policy—and set to work painting with interventionist colors. Christie seems to have been approached for this reason (among others).
This makes it easy to snidely dismiss someone like Christie as a creature of the GOP establishment. But one of the mistakes I think those of us in the Paul camp have made is to assume that, because popular opinion is moving in our direction, the Republican Party will follow suit. Instead Rand Paul’s amendment to block Washington from sending F-16 aircraft and M1 tanks to Egypt garnered only 19 Republican votes in the Senate, a hefty majority of GOP congressmen voted against Justin Amash’s amendment to restrain the NSA, and Paul was the only Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to oppose arming the Syrian rebels. That last paradigm—Paul stands alone—also applies to the presidential field where, for all the talk of a libertarian insurgency, the only candidate who fully supports the Rand Paul foreign policy is Rand Paul. Not Rubio, not Walker, not Christie, not even Ted Cruz.
In our galloping news cycle, George W. Bush might seem like a distant, foggy memory. But as the 2016 posturing shows, his legacy still exerts enormous pull over the Republican Party.