Times poll shows GOP schism on interventionism

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Nearly half of all Republican primary voters say it’s time the U.S. stops intervening in world affairs and focuses on domestic priorities instead, signaling a persistent rift that is playing out in the party’s presidential nomination battle.

In the latest poll from The Washington Times and JZ Analytics, 48 percent said the U.S. should maintain a policy of intervening where its interests are challenged. But 46 percent disagree, saying the country is “in a new global era” where it can no longer take such an active role.

“That makes me say that the party is fundamentally fractured, and not only along the obvious lines of the social conservatives, the libertarian conservatives and the moderate conservatives,” said John Zogby, who conducted the poll.

The Paul factor

The split is most obvious in the candidacy of Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who in Monday night’s Republican presidential debate drew some cheers but also loud boos when he called for an international “Golden Rule” that would dramatically curtail U.S. power projection throughout the world.

SIGNATURE POLICY: Rep. Ron Paul of Texas autographs a supporter's sign as he and his wife, Carol, leave a campaign stop in Rock Hill, S.C., on Tuesday. (Andrew Harnik/The Washington Times)

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SIGNATURE POLICY: Rep. Ron Paul of Texas autographs a supporter’s sign as ... more >

“This idea that we can’t debate foreign policy, that all we have to do is start another war — it’s warmongering,” Mr. Paul said, chastising the other four candidates on stage, who he said were pushing for a war against Iran.

Mr. Paul has made “non-interventionism” — he bristles at the label of “isolationist” — the hallmark of his campaign, along with calling for a return to constitutional principles at home.

He has called for bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan immediately and wants to end American military commitments that have U.S. troops stationed around the globe, though he says that doesn’t necessarily mean having a smaller Defense Department.

Before Iowa’s caucuses, the congressman from Texas questioned whether the U.S. should take steps to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and said killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan violated international rules. In Monday’s debate, he seemed to back away from, then later embrace, his belief that the U.S. violated international rules. That was when he called for an international Golden Rule.

Critics call it unrealistic

There is little doubt that Mr. Paul’s non-interventionist stance has fueled his rise in the GOP presidential field, helping him to a third-place finish in Iowa and a second-place finish in New Hampshire.

But John R. Bolton, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Mr. Paul’s poll numbers reveal more about the status of the debate on foreign policy than they do about a groundswell of support for the congressman.

Mr. Paul’s rise, he said, reflects “three years of almost no debate on international affairs” under President Obama.

“What I think the problem is, is that people’s attention has turned away from the international sphere, and it’s a big mistake because you can’t have a strong economy without the ability to protect American interests around the world,” said Mr. Bolton, who last week endorsed Mitt Romney in the presidential contest.

Mr. Bolton, who was considering a presidential run last year, said Mr. Paul ties himself in knots on international affairs.

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