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Chris Christie’s attack on Rand Paul - where Christie complained about piddling “esoteric” libertarian concerns voiced by people who were too cowardly to face “the widows and the orphans” of 9/11 -reminded me of something, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It just came to me:

 So burn that flag if you must!

 But before you do, you’d better burn a few other things!

You’d better burn your shirt and your pants!

Be sure to burn your TV and car!

Oh yeah, and don’t forget to burn your house!

Because none of those things would exist without six red stripes, seven red stripes,

And a helluva lot of stars!!

[wild applause]

Christie’s rhetoric would have been good enough for intra-party disputes five years ago because the chief party spokesman for anti-interventionist foreign policy was Ron Paul. Ron Paul’s position on foreign policy could be summed up by the sticker that Lisa Simpson put on her bike when she was pretending to be a fashionably left-wing college student, “USA Out of Everywhere”. Facing a constrained choice between Nelson the bully’s patriotic bluster and Lisa’s naive isolationism, the vast majority of Republicans were going to go with Nelson.

Well, Rand Paul may well be a “USA out of everywhere” guy, but he is working hard to avoid that impression and that is making harder for his opponents to marginalize him. They just aren’t used to having intra-party debates with people who don’t come off as crazy.

Ross Douthat argues that Republicans miss the old school realists who tended to balance the extreme tendencies of both the party’s crusaders and isolationists. The realists were pro-collective security, but wary of overextending the US. They believed that the US had a role to play in maintaining regional stability in key areas and providing global public goods, but that the US had to accommodate itself to regimes whose internal policies were repugnant.

I think there is something to that, but when I say “Republican realist” who do you think of from the last fifty years? That’s right. You thought “Henry Kissinger”. It turns out that this ultimate Republican realist rather liked Chris Christie. It would be better if pro-collective security Republicans talked more about limits and prudence, but I think something else is going on too. Rand Paul is riding a wave of public skepticism about foreign intervention and potentially intrusive domestic intelligence gathering. Public opinion(even among Republicans) is moving his way. But it wouldn’t matter if he was saying the same old things as his dad. Rand Paul chose to learn from the experience of marginality to pick his fights and his words. The Paul’s family’s pro-collective security opponents have not needed to be similarly careful. They have been winning their arguments with the Paul-types very easily for a very long time.

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