Disagreements over foreign policy seem almost destined to split Republicans in 2016. The ongoing wedge between party members appeared to grow even stronger last week following the annual conservative gathering known as CPAC.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., hardly a saber-rattler when it comes to foreign affairs, handily won a presidential contender poll at the conference and was quickly crowned the frontrunner of the race, although it’s still two years away.
Paul has specifically warned GOPers not to “beat their chest” over the Russia-Ukraine conflict, while others in the party have called for national leaders, especially President Barack Obama, to flex more muscle toward Vladimir Putin and the Russians.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was largely deemed as the conference’s “biggest loser” – finishing in seventh place in that same poll this year after finishing second only a year ago. The Florida senator has certainly been criticized for his openness to immigration reform, but he also gave support for a more assertive foreign policy during his CPAC speech – bucking the views of the resurgent isolationist strain of his party, which include Paul. The CPAC straw poll actually found that more than half of the conference’s participants agreed with the statement that it’s now time for “our European, Asian and other allies to provide for their own defense.” Only 37 percent agreed that, “As the world’s only superpower, the U.S. needs to continue to bear the responsibility of protecting our allies.”
Rubio learned the hard way that talking foreign intervention is not a good way to win over the audience, especially the younger, more libertarian crowd who grew up amidst wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This shift in thinking actually appears to be taking a hold among American voters in general. According to the most recent Pew Research Center survey, a growing number of Americans believe that U.S. global power is declining, and a majority of Americans now say that the country is doing too much to help solve the world’s problems.
Of course, with almost 1,000 days still left until the next president is elected, there’s plenty of time left for polls to change and new names to hop into the race. And that wedge among Republicans certainly doesn’t destroy the party’s chances in 2016. Obama’s poll numbers still hover in the low 40s.
But voters’ view of America’s role in international politics appears to be changing. While that outlook may be fleeting, it seems the GOP will face the most pressure to tone down aggression on the world stage, especially in the lead-up to 2016.