Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz — the tea party's two favorite 2016 prospects — have stopped pretending to be best friends.
It began Sunday when Cruz told ABC's This Week, "I'm a big fan of Rand Paul; he and I are good friends. I don't agree with him on foreign policy. I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world, and I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force abroad, but I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did."
Paul's non-interventionist approach to foreign policy has long attracted critics from the neoconservative wing of his party, but with the conflict in Ukraine resurfacing Cold War tough talk in the GOP, Cruz has apparently elected this moment to contrast his own, more aggressive views with those of his libertarian colleague.
In an op-ed at Breitbart published Monday morning, Paul fired back, taking several thinly veiled shots at Cruz.
"Every Republican likes to think he or she is the next Ronald Reagan," Paul writes. "Some who say this do so for lack of their own ideas and agenda. Reagan was a great leader and President. But too often people make him into something he wasn't in order to serve their own political purposes."
While he writes, "I don't claim to be the next Ronald Reagan," Paul proceeds to highlight the former president's "peace through strength" affinity for diplomacy over military action. And he appears to make reference to Cruz's frequent complaints that past Republican presidential candidates were not sufficiently conservative.
"I will remind anyone who thinks we will win elections by trashing previous Republican nominees or holding oneself out as some paragon in the mold of Reagan, that splintering the party is not the route to victory," Paul writes.
The two men, who have both expressed interest in 2016 presidential bids and would likely be competing for the same swath of the conservative base, have labored to project an image of unity in the past. And while the current spat is unlikely to escalate to the levels of Paul's war of words with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last year, it also demonstrates the tenuousness of their political alliance.
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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