Jim Antle reviews the reactions on the right to Rand Paul’s filibuster last week:
Shortly after Rand Paul’s talking filibuster unexpectedly seized national attention, Bill Kristol came back with his normal comedy routine. The junior senator from Kentucky was dismissed as an emblem of “kookiness” and “fearmongering,” “waxing semihysterical” as a “spokesman for the Code Pink faction of the Republican party.”
John McCain and Lindsey Graham were Kristol’s opening act. McCain grumbled about “wacko birds” and the dang libertarian kids who need to get off his lawn. Graham dismissed Paul’s questions about the limits of presidential power as undeserving of a response, in keeping with his now-infamous quotation, “Shut up, you don’t get a lawyer!”
But for the first time in a long time, the GOP rank-and-file wasn’t laughing along. Redstate.com editor and conservative commentator Erick Erickson asked if McCain and Graham simply resented Paul and his Republican allies for generating more media attention.
The reaction to the filibuster among movement conservatives appears to have broken down along fairly predictable lines of partisans and opportunists on one side and committed ideologues on the other. Partisans viewed the filibuster as a great episode in anti-Obama criticism and opposition, and therefore perceived anyone attacking the filibuster as a bad “team player” that was trying to give Obama political cover. This is also why so many otherwise hawkish senators joined Sen. Paul on the floor. The others may or may not share Sen. Paul’s concerns, but they saw a chance to score points against Obama and naturally took it. Opportunists such as Limbaugh know a popular sensation when they see one, and they don’t want to be identified with McCain and Graham, since they know that most conservatives view them with distrust and loathing. As we’ve seen before with Rubio, radio hosts will go out of their way to praise the conservative folk hero of the hour, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are celebrating the substance of his views.
For their part, Kristol and McCain have never liked or trusted Sen. Paul, and they are fiercely opposed to virtually everything he represents. They were bound to denounce Paul and his filibuster. Part of their reaction is fear that Paul may be gaining a broader following, but mostly it is contempt for what Paul stands for. Likewise, Michael Gerson predictably takes the anti-Paul line in his column this morning, but then there was never the slightest chance that he wouldn’t. Gerson has been a reliable apologist for Bush-era foreign policy, he was responsible for writing some of Bush’s most absurd public statements regarding foreign policy when he worked for him as a speechwriter. On top of all that, Gerson has a visceral, almost allergic reaction to anything resembling small-government conservatism or libertarianism, and considers both the bane of his ideas for the party, which they are. Any success for Paul is a setback for these people, and that compels them to go on the attack.
Kristol, Gerson, et al. may feel free to ignore the “conservative street” because they are wagering that the mood of the “street” is changeable and won’t necessarily be against them during the next debate. I’m guessing that they also assume that enough movement conservatives still follow their lead on foreign policy and national security that it ultimately won’t matter if they have to face a few days’ criticism from movement activists and radio hosts. The partisans and opportunists will probably forget about this episode in a few months or years, and the ideologues will still be dictating the limits of foreign policy debate on the right as they have for the last twelve years.