Long-simmering between Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) is rising to the surface in the form of a public feud over foreign policy.
The prominent conservative freshman are both rumored to have presidential ambitions in 2016.
It started on Sunday, when Cruz pointedly went after Paul, who has enthusiastically taken up the mantle of unofficial spokesman for the GOP’s isolationist foreign policy wing.
“I’m a big fan of Rand Paul. He and I are good friends. I don’t agree with him on foreign policy,” Cruz said on ABC’s “This Week.” “I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world. And I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force aboard. But I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did. When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire,’ when he stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate and said, ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,’ those words changed the course of history. The United States has a responsibility to defend our values.”
Lionizing Ronald Reagan is a rite of passage for Republicans, and the suggestion that the former president would be more supportive of Cruz’s views was too much for Paul. He swiped back in an op-ed published Monday in the conservative website Breitbart.com, titled, “Stop Warping Reagan’s Foreign Policy.”
“Every Republican likes to think he or she is the next Ronald Reagan,” Paul wrote in the first line of the op-ed. “Some who say this do so for lack of their own ideas and agenda. Reagan was a great leader and President. But too often people make him into something he wasn’t in order to serve their own political purposes.”
Paul’s op-ed didn’t mention Cruz by name, but the insinuation was unmistakable as he proceeded to rebut the Texan’s arguments about Gorbachev and the Soviet Union. He even wrote about having personally encountered the late conservative icon: “I met Ronald Reagan as a teenager when my father was a Reagan delegate in 1976.”
“I don’t claim to be the next Ronald Reagan nor do I attempt to disparage fellow Republicans as not being sufficiently Reaganesque,” Paul went on. “But I will remind anyone who thinks we will win elections by trashing previous Republican nominees or holding oneself out as some paragon in the mold of Reagan, that splintering the party is not the route to victory.”
The now public — and suddenly personal — disagreement fuels a vigorous debate within the GOP about whether or not to steer away from the foreign policy hawkishness that characterized the party in the wake of 9/11. It also sets up battle lines for the 2016 elections, should the two senators run for the Republican presidential nomination.
Cruz’s initial swipe on Sunday came one day after he was resoundingly defeated by Paul in the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll. Cruz, who came in second place, drew criticism for using his CPAC speech to slam former GOP nominees John McCain and Bob Dole for failing to “stand for principle.”