You saw the thing where Chris Christie and Rand Paul had an argument (in the press, not face to face) that climaxed with Paul calling Christie "King of Bacon," right? That was not merely a game of the Conservative Dozens. That was a battle in the war for the soul of the Republican Party. In this war, Christie has a stalwart crusader on his side: Jennifer Rubin.
The Washington Post's token conservative blogger headlined her post on the tiff "Christie flattens Rand Paul," which I'm pretty sure was not meant to be a joke about Christie's size, but, like "King of Bacon," you can't really help but go there. "This is getting fun," she says, above an embedded YouTube of Christie doing his "arguing with some jerk-off" shtick, but this time against an opponent who is not actually present.
"Notice how Christie relishes a fight in his comments on Paul," she says, as if there were a person left on this planet who had not yet noticed how Chris Christie enjoys yelling at people. Christie's point was that his state receives less money in federal spending than it sends to the government in taxes -- this is true of all large states, most of which are fairly liberal, so it's not a particularly "conservative" argument -- but Rubin adds some additional arguments that Christie didn't use but that she just feels like he'd totally agree with:
Christie didn’t go there, but the other response to Paul (who accuses the former federal prosecutor of being “flippant” about the Bill of Rights) is that Paul is so ignorant about the Fourth Amendment the FBI had to explain to him what “a reasonable expectation of privacy” is.
She concludes by setting up her puppet theater in preparation for her performance of "Republican Presidential Debate 2016" to an audience of one:
The problem with Paul’s shtick is that it — and he — collapse upon contact with a knowledgeable opponent. As for Christie, I do wonder what he’d say about Paul’s praise for the traitor Edward Snowden.
I am sure we'll find out soon enough.
Rubin is not a fan of Rand Paul. Her distaste for him comes up a lot. (See: "Rand Paul's dangerous demagoguery," "Like Father, like son: Rand and Ron's dark vision," "Rand Paul digs deeper," "Rand Paul needs to recover from his rehabilitation," "Rand Paul's newest problem," "The world according to Rand Paul," and "Jack Hunter and Rand Paul 'playing the game.'" And that takes us back merely to the beginning of July.) What you have to remember about Rubin is that she actually doesn't really care that much about "conservatism" as a whole. She cares primarily about "national security," which is to say war-making and Muslim-bombing, two fixations she shares with the editors of her former employer, Commentary. Her beef with Rand Paul isn't about his dalliance with white supremacists or his decidedly austere plans for the social safety net, even if she'll use those beliefs as a cudgel against him if need be. Her beef with Paul is that he is not an interventionist neoconservative hawk.
The problem for her, right now, is that the GOP is almost running low on those, following the rather disastrous Bush administration and its launching of two endless, awful wars. The future of the party most likely looks more like Paul (and, honestly, Pat Buchanan) than Liz Cheney.
But the hawks have a contingency plan. They will do what they have been doing for a generation: take attractive pols with absolutely no foreign policy opinions and give them some. Matt Welch recently described this process in Reason. Sarah Palin was trained in interventionism by Fred Barnes and Bill Kristol. A conservative operative described her as "a blank page" and a "project." John McCain himself was trained in "Teddy Roosevelt"-style foreign adventuring, years ago, by David Brooks and "one of Bill Kristol's best friends," Marshall Wittmann. Tim Pawlenty received similar training. George W. Bush's foreign policy diverged from that of his father for a reason. Welch concludes:
Maybe they keep searching for moldable clay—or failing that, straight-to-cable true-believer attack dogs like John Bolton and Peter King—because these ideas aren't particularly saleable 12 years after 9/11. If blank-check interventionism was producing its own camera-ready talent, its proponents wouldn't have to spend so much time head-hunting.
Or maybe that's whole attraction in the first place—playing ventriloquist for hand-picked dummies who seek to wield enormous power. I'm sure it must be exhilarating to think that there is something behind the throne greater than the king himself, but what a weird way to go through life.
The first example in Welch's piece, of course, was Chris Christie, who was heavily courted by the interventionist right in 2011 and 2012, when they hoped very much that he'd run for president. "I haven't given any thought to foreign policy," Christie told them. "Don't worry about that," said Henry Kissinger.
Having not given much thought to foreign policy in the past, Christie has now been given thoughts on foreign policy. Those thoughts are why he is suddenly talking like Lindsey Graham. And it's working! "Is Christie the GOP's best 2016 candidate?" Rubin asked a few weeks ago. (Her answer: yes.) Yesterday, in a post that still has an unfortunate stray apostrophe in the headline, Rubin again singled out Christie for praise, positioning him as the electable and acceptable alternative to those awful isolationists.
Too often pro-defense lawmakers refuse to engage their opponents directly (Where is Marco Rubio?) or they do so in ways that don’t endear them to the public (“wacko birds”). Ironically it was a governor, Chris Christie, who finally pushed back with the salient argument that this stuff is there for a reason and if you’ve lost track of that come visit some widows and orphans in New Jersey. (Whatever his shortcomings, you gotta love Christie when he exhibits no tolerance for fools.)
One of the funnier aspects of the 2012 presidential election was watching Jennifer Rubin shift from a not-particularly-conservative uber-hawk blogger to an unpaid advocate for all things Mitt Romney, because her allies were advising Romney and she is deeply invested in her allies regaining power. It looks like she has her man for 2016. Or at least a man she'd be comfortable shilling for, over and over again, shamelessly. Congratulations, Chris Christie. Neoconservative fear of Rand Paul has just made you a new best friend.