As I sit down to write this post, I am admittedly afraid that I may come across as slightly out of touch in choosing to write about last Tuesday’s Republican debate and by focusing on my continued support of a dovish foreign policy in light of the recent, tragic events in Paris. But I’m going to stay the course, and here’s why: First of all, I’ve written about terrorism and the monsters who propagate it on this blog before and all of my readers know where I stand. Secondly, kind souls the world over have rallied in support of the French people in this time of trial and rather than use my blog as a forum to grandstand or show off my righteous indignation, I would rather just stand in quiet solidarity with those who oppose senseless violence. Finally, I remain strongly committed to having a serious discussion about our nation’s foreign policy as we move deeper into the 21st Century and I steadfastly refuse to let the barbaric actions of terrorists dictate my principles. Our nation is war-weary and in debt largely because we have allowed the fear of terrorism to drag us into long, senseless wars in the past. This is a mistake that too many in our political elite are intent on repeating, and now is as important a time as any to remember the dangers of America acting as the world’s police force.
And so, let’s turn back the clock to Tuesday, when eight of the top contenders for the Republican nomination for president met in Milwaukee for a debate hosted by the Fox Business Network and the Wall Street Journal. In stark contrast to the CNBC debacle from two weeks ago, this debate was laudably focused on policy and the many real disagreements between the candidates on the issues rather than “gotcha” questions and shameless media spectacle. I agree wholeheartedly with Ben Domenech at The Federalist that this was the most substantive Republican debate so far—indeed, I would argue that this has been the only substantive debate up to this point.
The candidates were given free rein to discuss ongoing issues with our immigration system, the financial sector, and our country’s hopelessly complex and inefficient tax code. The answers, refreshingly, represented a wide range of perspectives, at least compared to the virtual lock-step agreement showcased in the two Democratic debates so far. Donald Trump detailed (in all baffling seriousness) his plan to deport 11 million illegal immigrants from the United States, receiving vociferous objections from John Kasich and Jeb Bush. Kasich himself expressed support for raising the minimum wage and expanding Medicaid under Obamacare, which unsurprisingly drew some serious heat from his colleagues. Even the various tax plans presented by the candidates were varied—sure, they all involved cutting taxes and implementing a flatter code, but there were surprising variations on the actual nuts and bolts of how to get there. (I, for one, found it interesting both that Ben Carson admitted that he wanted to eliminate the home mortgage interest deduction and that Rand Paul said he would keep it.)
What really struck me about this debate, though, was the one area upon which there was virtually no disagreement: that the United States needs to build up its military and assert itself more forcefully across the globe. That is to say, of course, that all but one of the candidates agreed on this. And that lone dissenter was none other than my endorsed candidate for president, Rand Paul, who finally—thank god, finally—showed up and put on a strong debate performance. As Senator Paul boldly and passionately laid out his vision of an America that seeks peace through strength rather than senseless and expensive war, I found myself asking the same question as Mr. Domenech: “Where did this performance come from?” For the first time, Rand, whose campaign has been quickly fading and struggling for cash, was able to clearly delineate his views and separate himself from the belligerent nonsense of the rest of the Republican field.
He was the only candidate onstage who did not endorse the enforcement of a no-fly zone over Syria, pointing out correctly and presciently that this would almost certainly commit us to another ground war in the Middle East and could very well lead to American jets shooting Russian fighters out of the sky. “You can be strong without being involved in every civil war around the world,” he added. He landed one of the few gut-punches that any of the candidates have managed on Donald Trump when he interrupted his rant on China and trade by pointing out that China is not a party to the Trans Pacific Partnership. Most importantly, though, he attacked Marco Rubio—the Republican establishment favorite and news media darling—for advocating another $1 trillion in additional military spending. Every candidate onstage joined Rubio in the tired refrain that America must be the world’s preeminent military power and, as Carly Fiorina put it, “everybody needs to know it.” But Paul pointed out the absurdly obvious truth that America already does lead the world in military might. He noted, correctly, that the United States spends more on its military than the next 10 countries combined. As Katherine Timpf at National Review asks, “I mean, seriously, how much do we need to spend for the Republicans like Marco Rubio to be satisfied? More than all the countries combined? When is it enough? Is it ever?”
But it didn’t end there. Paul landed what I view as a solid hit on Rubio by accusing him of not being sufficiently conservative. After all, how can any candidate claim to be a fiscal conservative when they want to blow the defense budget wide open? Paul even went after his Senate colleague for his desire to expand the child tax credit, which also represents a massive, unfunded increase in spending. “You cannot be a conservative,” said Paul, “if you’re going to keep promoting new programs that you’re not going to pay for.” Simple as that. Rubio, of course, responded by branding Paul as an “isolationist”—a label that is anathema to virtually all Republican primary voters and is, in this case, wholly inaccurate. Nevertheless, the fact that Rubio was forced to call upon that trope for aid is itself evidence that the attack hit home.
What’s really astounding to me is that there are so few prominent Republican voices who are willing to question their party’s continued commitment to massive increases in our already bloated military budget. It was so refreshing to listen to Senator Paul on Tuesday night because this is precisely the kind of intraparty debate that never happens but is so sorely needed. Even the neoconservative editorial board of the New Hampshire Union Leader agrees that “Paul is correct in pointing out that more defense spending does not necessarily mean a stronger defense.” This elementary concept is something that, sooner or later, the Republican Party is going to need to wrap its head around if it ever wants a shot at balancing our nation’s budget. (Paul, by the way, also pointed out on Tuesday night that he is the only candidate whose tax plan also comes with a balanced budget.)
Damon Linker, writing in The Week this past Friday, presented a case for why conservative intellectuals should be disenchanted with the Republican Party. While I usually find the attempts of liberal writers to arrogantly portray the Republican Party as devoid of intellectual merit to be particularly insulting, I couldn’t help but agree with Linker’s caricature of the GOP’s persistent “Green Lantern Theory” of foreign policy. Most Republicans believe, as he puts it, that “the United States can accomplish anything it wishes in the world, provided it displays sufficient willpower”:
Don't like Putin's annexation of Ukraine and meddling in Syria? Fiorina can face him down. Pissed off about China's muscle-flexing in the South China Sea? Trump will show them who's boss. Dying to finally knock ISIS from the Dark Ages back to the Stone Age? Rubio's your man. Itching to undo the Iran nuclear deal so we can put the Mullahs in their place? Cruz will get it done.
And the sad truth is that, essentially, this isn’t a caricature at all. This is basically what today’s Republican presidential candidates believe. All of them, of course, save Rand Paul. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why it is so important to have a voice like Senator Paul’s in the race for the presidency. It was encouraging and illuminating to finally watch him stand up for his positions amidst a crowded debate field. And, ultimately, that is why he is the only currently active candidate whom I am willing to endorse for President of the United States.