McCain Worried About ‘Protectionism and Isolationism’ in GOP

By Matt Cover | November 16, 2010 | 4:01 AM EST

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called a press conference on Monday, April 19, 2010 to announce a 10-point plan to secure the border between Mexico and Arizona, including the immediate deployment of 3,000 National Guard troops to the region. ( Starr)

( – Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he is worried about protectionist and isolationist views taking root in the Republican Party, particularly in the newly elected group of conservative Republicans. McCain said these views might contribute to dwindling GOP support for the war on terrorism.

McCain, speaking Monday at an event sponsored by the Foreign Policy Initiative in Washington, D.C., was asked whether he thought that support for the war on terrorism might be eroding within the GOP.

“I worry about it, and I worry a lot,” McCain said. “Because throughout the history of the Republican Party in modern times there’s two wings: the isolationist wing manifested before World War II and at other times; and the internationalist side.

“So I think there are going to be some tensions within our party,” he said.

McCain singled out incoming Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), son of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who is known for his non-interventionist stance on foreign policy. The younger Paul, McCain said, has already talked about cuts to defense spending, causing the senior Republican to worry.

“I don’t know the incoming Senator Rand Paul – I respect him and admire his victory – but already he has talked about withdrawals, cuts in defense, etcetera, and a number of others are” as well, said McCain.

The Arizona senator also said he had “no doubt” about the sincerity of Paul and others to fight for spending cuts, saying he worried that such an aggressive stance could be justified on protectionist and isolationist grounds.

“I have no doubt that this new group of Republicans has come in with a commitment to take a meat-axe to spending,” said McCain. “I’m not sure that you could say that everything in Defense is sacrosanct while the rest of these cuts in education and social programs are taking place.

“So, I worry a lot about the rise of protectionism and isolationism in the Republican Party,” said McCain.

Paul, who has not taken an explicit position on troop withdrawals, has echoed a common non-interventionist critique of the war on terror, saying that he would only support military operations conducted “as the Constitution mandates.”

Although the Constitution empowers the president to be commander in chief of the armed forces, proponents of this position often argue that the president cannot exercise this power without a formal Declaration of War passed by Congress.

Paul also opposes allowing U.S. forces to fight under international banners, such as U.N. peacekeeping missions.

“I believe that when we must fight, we declare war as the Constitution mandates and we fight to win. That we fight only under US Commander and not the UN,” Paul states on his campaign Web site

Paul also holds non-interventionist views about U.S. membership in international institutions, claiming that doing so somehow violates U.S. sovereignty.

He advocates that the U.S. withdraw from institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and that it advocate that dues payments to the United Nations be voluntary. Currently, Congress must appropriate the United States’ share of dues to the United Nations.

“The Founding Fathers warned us that foreign alliances sacrifice our independence as a nation,” Paul’s Web site states. “We are a nation of laws. Our allegiance to foreign institutions sacrifices our autonomy as a nation by transferring our legal authority to unelected and unaccountable leaders. Our fiscal, trade, and monetary policy should be in the hands and best interest of We the People.

“Rand Paul proposes that America can engage the world in free trade, develop lucrative commercial relationships with other nations, and defend its national interests without funding or joining international organizations,” his Web site states.

McCain said he worried that Republicans might bring protectionist, anti-free trade views with them as well. Protectionism is supported by some Republicans who oppose free trade because they claim it kills domestic jobs and makes America too economically dependent on the rest of the world.

McCain said that such views amount to a lack of faith in America’s ability to compete, adding that those who oppose free trade are admitting that America cannot compete.

“If you are against free trade agreements, you then believe that the United States can’t compete,” McCain said, when asked about the future of free trade agreements.

“I do not believe that the United States can’t compete. I believe we can compete anywhere,” he said.