Let’s hope other 2016 presidential hopefuls learn from Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s mistake this week — drunk on confidence and mojo, politicians often shoot themselves in the foot. Perfectly positioned as President Obama’s No. 1 nemesis on the border crisis, having successfully shamed the president into meeting with him on the issue, Perry then ditched the shrewd moves to level a bumbling broadside against Kentucky Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulThis week: GOP picks up the pieces after healthcare defeat Trump, GOP fumble chance to govern GOP senators pitch alternatives after House pulls ObamaCare repeal bill MORE on foreign policy.
Clearly Perry is running for president, and is being advised, over-advised and warned that Paul, who out-polls the other potential 2016 GOP candidates like Perry, is a threat to his comeback. He is. Perry knows foreign policy is Paul’s political liability, and it is. But the fight he picked instead helped Paul, who made Perry look foolish. And this time, he won’t be blaming the meds for back pain.
The sudden salvo, more than three weeks after Paul described his position on events in Iraq in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, would have better served the governor if it wasn’t filled with holes. As Paul noted in an op-ed titled “Rick Perry is dead wrong,” published in Politico, Perry recommended solutions similar to the ones Paul has supported — but omitted that fact. They are also responses the administration is currently utilizing, including surveillance and intelligence and reconnaissance sharing. Paul also stated he would support airstrikes, as Perry suggested. “I would argue that if anything, my ideas for this crisis are both stronger, and not rooted simply in bluster,” Paul wrote.
In his Journal op-ed a month ago, even before Paul was described as “isolationist” by former Vice President Dick Cheney, Paul blamed both Obama and former President George W. Bush for the deteriorating state of the Middle East. He insisted any military response should only come after answering the question of which country we would be helping by intervening (Iraq or Iran), and that it be taken — as Reagan Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger described — “with the clear intention of winning.” Paul said the “attempt to transform Iraq into something more amenable to our interests would likely require another decade of U.S. presence and perhaps another 4,000 American lives — a generational commitment that few Americans would be willing to make.” Noting in his response to Perry’s attack that the Texas governor had supported returning troops to Iraq back in 2012, Paul wrote “On foreign policy, Perry couldn’t be more stuck in the past, doubling down on formulas that haven’t worked, parroting rhetoric that doesn’t make sense and reinforcing petulant attitudes that have cost our nation a great deal.”
Perry might have thought it an opportune time to hit Paul on his noninterventionist positions, but he didn’t offer any new ideas, didn’t call for ground troops and is hardly a leading expert on national security or foreign policy in the GOP. Sure, there are no hawks in the weak field of potential GOP candidates for 2016, and it could help him with primary voters, but next time Perry takes on Paul, he will need to be better prepared. Paul punches back — hard. And he is smart, hungry and ready for a fight with anyone who brings it.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.