What the Rand Paul vs. Dick Cheney kerfuffle says about Republican soul searching

Paul and Cheney are trading barbs, but today's GOP is clearly on Team Paul

Rand Paul
(Image credit: (David Becker/ZUMA Press/Corbis))

On Monday, Mother Jones published a video from April 2009 of now-Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) talking like the most liberal of Democrats. Speaking to a group of college Republicans a few weeks before announcing his run for Senate, Paul strongly suggests that former Vice President Dick Cheney used the 9/11 attacks as a pretext for invading Iraq so that he and Halliburton, the oil-services company he led before joining the Bush administration, would profit. The relevant part starts at the 6:30 mark:

It's a remarkable accusation from a current Republican officeholder, but what's more interesting is the lack of outrage on the right, at least from anybody not named Cheney. In fact, the Paul video — and a recording (also via Mother Jones) made last week of Dick Cheney criticizing "isolationists" in the GOP — is getting a lot more attention on the left. (See the MSNBC interview below)

Sure, there is some pushback from the hawkish wing of the Republican Party — arguing "that Cheney’s role amounted to treachery for personal gain.... might fly at a MoveOn.org confab, but it will not be appreciated in conservative circles, no matter what GOP voters’ views on Iraq may be," says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. But Paul hasn't felt compelled to apologize to Cheney (yet, at least), and in fact most of the concern about Paul's 2016 presidential prospects seems to be coming from liberals like Salon's Alex Pareene and MSNBC's Chris Matthews.

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Paul will likely lose some support in the Republican Party over the newly unearthed Cheney (and Bush) slam, and for other videos very likely out there of him proclaiming other GOP heterodoxy. But there are plenty of reasons to believe the party is drifting away from Cheney and his hawkishness and toward Paul and his more dovish stances on foreign policy and terrorism policy. First, these Pew poll results from December 2013 paint a GOP (and nation) closer to the Paul outlook than the Cheney one:

Then there's the surprisingly definitive failure of Liz Cheney's Senate bid in Wyoming. Liz Cheney's response to Paul's five-year-old dig at her father — "it's not surprising since Sen. Paul often seems to get his foreign policy talking points from Rachel Maddow" — is a pretty good encapsulation of the relationship between the Cheney and Paul clans. Paul's ascendance doesn't say so much about the decline of the GOP establishment (see Bush, Jeb) as it does the falling cachet of the Cheney corner of that establishment.

It's a pretty remarkable turnaround: Dick Cheney has been a Republican power player since the Ford White House, and former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) has been a fringe member of the party (or non-member) for almost as long. At the same time, Cheney himself hasn't run for office on his own ticket since his last House race in 1988, and he wasn't exactly popular by the time he left office for the (presumably) last time in 2009:

Cheney and Paul will never face off in any sort of direct popularity contest, but the potential 2016 candidate setting himself up to represent the foreign policy hawks is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). If they both run, there's no telling who will be more popular and in step with GOP primary voters two years from now — a lot depends on what happens in the world before 2016, and how President Obama reacts. But right now, the energy and poll numbers — both in the party and across the electorate — seem to be on Paul's side.

At Hot Air, conservative blogger Allahpundit wonders "how all of this plays with the 'somewhat conservative' voters who tend to swing GOP primaries."

Do they care that Paul dumped on Dick Cheney five years ago? Even if they dislike the conspiratorial imputations involving Halliburton, I bet in hindsight most would have preferred Paul's dovish approach to Iraq than Cheney's. Maybe they'll cut him some slack for that. [Hot Air]

At MSNBC, Matthews, Mother Jones' David Corn, and author Ron Suskind give the question considerably more thought. Which is one reason Rand Paul is such an interesting figure, and so hard to handicap politically:

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