Rand Paul takes veiled swipe at Ted Cruz over foreign policy
POSTED: Monday, March 10, 2014 - 1:26pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 - 9:52am
CNN — Recent tension between Republican Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz flared on Monday after Paul doubled-down in his criticism of Cruz's rhetoric.
"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 (Ronald) Reagan, that splintering the party is not the route to victory," the Kentucky Republican wrote in an opinion piece for Breitbart.com.
His op-ed followed comments by Cruz in an interview on Sunday highlighting his disagreement with Paul, who's known for his libertarian views, on foreign policy. But Cruz didn't go into specifics.
"I don't agree with him on foreign policy. 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 abroad," Cruz said on ABC's "This Week," referring to the crisis in Ukraine. "But I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did."
The Texas Republican went on to invoke Reagan's declaration of the Soviet Union as an "evil empire" and recalled the moment the former President stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin in 1987 and said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
"Those words changed the course of history," Cruz added. "The United States has a responsibility to defend our values."
But Paul argued Monday that too many Republicans are distorting Reagan's views on foreign policy and national defense, though he didn't specifically name Cruz.
While Reagan adhered to a policy of "peace through strength," Paul said, he also relied on "shrewd diplomacy" to de-escalate nuclear tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union.
"Today, we forget that some of the Republican hawks of his time criticized Reagan harshly ... calling him an appeaser," he wrote.
Paul also pointed to the moment when Reagan withdrew U.S. forces after 241 Marines were killed in 1983 by a truck bomb at a compound in Lebanon. Paul wrote that rather than sending in more forces, Reagan realized "the cost of American lives was too great for the mission."
With a history of non-interventionist views that have irked establishment Republicans, Paul argued that Republicans are all essentially in agreement on most of the diplomatic and other measures taken to isolate Russia over its intervention in Ukraine, including threatened sanctions.
"Yet, some politicians have used this time to beat their chest. What we don't need right now is politicians who have never seen war talking tough for the sake of their political careers," Paul wrote.
He later added that "today's Republicans should concentrate on establishing their own identities and agendas, as opposed to simply latching onto Ronald Reagan's legacy-or worse, misrepresenting it."
A number of Republicans invoked Reagan during last week's Conservative Political Action Committee, with most suggesting that the 40th President would be a stronger leader against Russian President Vladimir Putin than President Barack Obama. But no one suggested that America should put boots on the ground.
Paul attempting to clarify his foreign policy views
In a separate opinion piece for TIME.com, published Sunday, Paul also argued that Obama has failed to project Reagan's "peace through strength" policy, and he called for the United States to be even more aggressive on its diplomatic efforts relating to Russia.
"It is our role as a global leader to be the strongest nation in opposing Russia's latest aggression," he wrote.
But he still ripped some of his colleagues for what he sees as a misinterpretation of Reagan's views. "What some American leaders, including some in my own party, often forget is that lasting peace was always Reagan's ultimate objective."
Paul's comments come in an apparent effort to boost his foreign policy credentials as the libertarian seriously considers a 2016 presidential bid.
His more recent remarks seem to offer a departure from some of his initial comments about the crisis in Ukraine. Paul told The Washington Post last month as the crisis was unfolding that Republicans are too often trying to "tweak Russia."
"Some on our side are so stuck in the Cold War era, they want to tweak Russia all the time, and I don't think that's a good idea," he said.
The comment caused a stir among more hawkish members of the party, who painted it as another example where Paul is an outlier when it comes to national security and foreign policy.
Stage getting set for 2016?
Paul and Cruz, who's also mulling a presidential bid, normally line up on a range of issues. They were both elected with strong tea party support and have vowed to shake things up in Washington.
But Paul seems to think Cruz is taking the wrong approach by criticizing his fellow Republicans. Since he was elected in 2012, Cruz has repeatedly stood up to the GOP's Old Guard in the Senate and some still blame him for igniting the fiasco that ultimately led to last year's government shutdown.
Cruz saw sharp pushback last week, for example, when he brought up the three most recent unsuccessful GOP presidential nominees-- Bob Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney-- in his speech at CPAC and argued they lost because they didn't "stand for principle."
His comment drew strong rebuke from McCain and Dole, and Paul piled on during an interview on "Fox News Sunday."
"Everybody has their own style," Paul said when asked about Cruz's comments, but he added, "I don't spend a lot of time trying to drag people down."
"Can we do things different to get the party bigger? There's always ways we can get bigger, particularly when we don't win," he continued. "But I don't spend any time sort of trying to criticize others in the party, because I realize the party has to be bigger, not smaller."
CNN reached out to Cruz's office Monday for comment but did not receive an immediate response.