Every few hours, the campaigns of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul send out a donor message about his fight against the Patriot Act. In each one, this coming Sunday is marked as a do-or-die moment to block the most loathed provisions of the law. In one Wednesday e-mail, Paul made a winking, knowing reference that assumed his followers were watching closely.
"If I'm going to slug it out Sunday with the spy state apologists, I'm going to need all the help and support I can get," Paul wrote. "Unfortunately, it seems the president, the senior senator from Arizona and other members of the 'eye roll' caucus who can't stand any mention of the Bill of Rights are all operating out of the same playbook."
The "eye roll," of course, was a reference to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham's Pavlovian response when Paul led a group of senators in delaying the Patriot vote by a week. It was immediately turned into a gif; in time it was mocked by Jon Stewart. When Paul himself appeared on Stewart's show this week, he went even further than the e-mail, asking if Graham's eye roll was disrespectful to the troops.
"I think it's a disservice to their memory for me to say I'm going to roll my eyes and the Bill of Rights is out of the window because I'm not willing to stay here this weekend and fight for something our Founding Fathers thought important enough to put in the Fourth Amendment," Paul said.
As he travels in Iowa Thursday, and South Carolina on Friday, Paul is carrying out wars on multiple fronts with more hawkish Republicans who think they can get the better of him, and who all currently trail him in the polls.
The Louisiana governor, who has struggled to gain traction in the crowded invisible primary, has worked the hardest to bait Paul. Earlier this week, after Bloomberg News reported on an apparent evolution in Jindal's view of NSA bulk data collection, Jindal went right after Paul. His hook was Paul's insistence—on Morning Joe, no less—that GOP hawks blundered into Iraq and "created ISIS."
"This is a perfect example of why Senator Paul is unsuited to be Commander-in-Chief," Jindal said in a wordy statement. "We have men and women in the military who are in the field trying to fight ISIS right now, and Senator Paul is taking the weakest, most liberal Democrat position. It's one thing for Senator Paul to take an outlandish position as a Senator at Washington cocktail parties, but being Commander-in-Chief is an entirely different job. We should all be clear that evil and Radical Islam are at fault for the rise of ISIS, and people like President Obama and Hillary Clinton exacerbate it. American weakness, not American strength, emboldens our enemies. Senator Paul's illogical argument clouds a situation that should provide pure moral clarity. Islam has a problem. ISIS is its current manifestation. And the next President's job is to have the discipline and strength to wipe ISIS off the face of the earth. It has become impossible to imagine a President Paul defeating radical Islam and it's time for the rest of us to say it."
Through aides, Paul portrayed Jindal as a glib climber. "Just last week, Gov. Jindal spoke out in support of Sen. Paul and announced he now opposes the NSA’s illegal and unnecessary domestic bulk data collection, after previously cheerleading for it," said Paul adviser Doug Stafford in a statement. "As we have seen for the past few weeks, Senator Paul is the only Republican running it seems who is willing to learn from our mistakes in the Middle East in order to keep us safer and stronger. The American people are looking for a candidate who can express a coherent viewpoint, something Gov. Jindal and many other candidates have been unable to do thus far.”
Jindal's adviser Timmy Teepell was dispatched to push back. “It's astonishing that Sen. Paul will blame conservative Americans for the rise of ISIS but will hide behind a staffer rather than defend his comments," he said in his own statement. "This was clearly not a gaffe. What we’ve learned today is that Sen. Paul is to the left of President Obama and Hillary Clinton on foreign policy. It is the kind of blame-America rhetoric we normally only hear from Hollywood celebrities and Al Jazeera commentators. Senator Paul is a one-term senator, with no executive experience, and we all know how that has worked out in the current administration.”
That wasn't even the finale. Today, Jindal blasted out a fundraising message that boiled down his original litany against Paul into a few disses, like "maybe Rand Paul wants to be the favorite Republican among the 'blame America first' crowd'" and "Senator Paul has jumped out even to the left of President Obama and Hillary Clinton."
The former Pennsylvania senator has used a lighter touch. He did not seek out an argument with Paul. Not 24 hours into his new campaign, he appeared on Fox and Friends, where co-host Brian Kilmeade played the tape of Paul on Morning Joe.
"Do you believe the hawks in your party caused ISIS?" asked Kilmeade.
"You know, it sounds like Bernie Sanders, not like some Republican running for President," said Santorum. "This idea that, you know, we created ISIS — I mean, ISIS was created because of President Obama and his failure to maintain a presence in Iraq. I think that the record is pretty clear about that. That's number one. Number two, ISIS exists and feeds off the fact that they hate everything we are. It's not what we do, it's what we are."
After tossing boulders at Paul for the past two years, Christie joined the party in an interview with Hugh Hewitt to be aired in full on Friday. Hewitt played back the Morning Joe quote; Christie went to town on it.
"I think folks like those that are arguing against this have a severe case of amnesia," said Christie, later specifying that Paul was one of those people. "I was nominated to be US attorney on September 10, 2001. I have no amnesia about what happened the next day."
Here's the kicker: None of this was particularly new. Paul's stump speech often includes a riff about how too many Republicans "loved Hillary's war in Libya," and too many voted to invade Iraq. He's said it in every primary state. The only factor that changed this week was that a series of more hawkish Republicans wanted to punch up, and that Paul was happy to punch down.
Well, mostly happy. When asked for a comment on Christie's quote, Stafford passed along an announcement of an upcoming Paul press conference on the need to reveal the redacted pages of the 9/11 Commission report. Stafford had a confession: He'd lost interest in commenting on every ridiculous thing Governor Christie says today."