The split in the party was on display in muted terms here on Thursday at the opening session of the Conservative Political Action Conference when Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida and a possible presidential candidate in 2016, expressed concern about a return to isolationism. Without mentioning Mr. Paul directly, Mr. Rubio said that the United States “can’t solve every war” but added that “we also can’t be retreating from the world.”
Moments later, Mr. Paul told the conference that the filibuster he conducted last week over the Obama administration’s drone policy was aimed at the limits on presidential power and American power abroad. “No one person gets to decide the law,” he said.
Some Republicans are so nervous about the positions championed by Mr. Paul and his supporters that they have begun talking about organizing to beat back primary challenges from what Dan Senor, a veteran of the younger Mr. Bush’s team of foreign policy advisers, described as a push to reorient the party toward a “neo-isolationist” foreign policy. That policy, Mr. Senor said, “is sparking discussions among conservative donors, activists and policy wonks about creating a political network to support internationalist Republicans.”This story is an excellent account of disagreements among elected officials and party activists. But do these disagreements matter much to rank-and-file voters? Polling data provide some reasons for doubt:
- Gallup finds broad areas of bipartisan agreement on top foreign policy goals, albeit with some differences between Republicans and Democrats.
- Pew finds bipartisan backing for drone strikes, with Republicans even more supportive than Democrats. Republicans are also less concerned than Democrats about potential consequences such as civilian casualties.
- In an open-ended question, Gallup finds that just 2 percent of Americans list a foreign policy issue as the most important problem facing the country.
- When Quinnipiac asked respondents what issue they most wanted to hear about in the State of the Union, foreign policy was the choice of just 4 percent of both Republicans and Democrats.