If Paul gets remotely close to taking the nomination, you can expect the party establishment to wield weapons against him that are far more potent than King, Graham, Bolton, or even Bolton’s ‘stache. But if this is a sideshow, it’s a notable sideshow. The hawks’ anxieties are newsworthy in their own right.
It is interesting how many hard-liners are considering running no-hope protest campaigns simply to generate more debate about foreign policy and to drag the other candidates in their direction. The odd thing is that Paul is the would-be candidate most likely to benefit from having more hard-liners in the race, so Bolton, Graham, King, et al. will only help Paul by splitting up the hawkish vote and providing him with easy-to-mock foils. If I were in Paul’s camp, I wouldn’t believe the good luck that Paul’s opponents could include Peter King, once a stalwart defender of the IRA, and John Bolton, lately a cheerleader for the MEK cult and “former” terrorist group. Then there is Lindsey Graham, a serial blunderer and warmonger who makes most other hawks in his party seem restrained ans reasonable by comparison. Even if they don’t take away many votes from the other hawkish candidates, they will make things more difficult for their fellow hawks nonetheless.
The more that candidates like that are allowed to speak for the party’s hawks, the easier it should be for Paul to present himself as a reasonable and necessary alternative. Since the impulse of many of the other hawks in the debate will be to express agreement with the hard-line no-hopers, the no-hopers’ presence could also have the effect of dragging the more competitive hawkish candidates into adopting much more unpopular positions than they might otherwise take. If Bolton and Graham decide to jump in, it will be because they don’t think any of the other likely hawkish candidates are capable of debating foreign policy issues well or often enough, and that would reflect a lack of confidence in the foreign policy credentials of the viable hawks.
Finally, because these protest candidates are well-liked by hard-liners in conservative media none of the viable hawkish candidates will be able to criticize them very much, but the protest candidates will have every incentive to emphasize their alleged expertise at the expense of the more viable candidates. The hard-liner protest candidates may want to combat Paul and whatever it is they think he represents, but they will more than likely end up undermining candidates that agree with them on foreign policy. As so often happens in our foreign policy debates, the hard-liners haven’t thought through the consequences of their plans here and could end up empowering the people that they are trying to oppose.