Republican Sen. Marco Rubio fired back at competitor Sen. Rand Paul on Tuesday over his claim that military spending is a liberal priority.
"Yes, I do want to rebuild the American military," Rubio said. "I know that Rand is a committed isolationist. I’m not."
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"I believe the world is a stronger and better place when the United States is the strongest military power in the world," Rubio said.
Paul, a libertarian critic of American military power, drew a comparison between Rubio’s plan to increase the child tax credit and his plan to increase military spending. Paul said both were liberal proposals.
"How is it conservative to add a trillion dollar expenditure to the federal government that you won’t pay for? How is it conservative to add a trillion dollars in military expenditures? You cannot be a conservative if you keep promoting programs that you aren’t going to pay for," Paul said.
Rubio responded that national security threats from terrorism and aggressive state powers jeopardize the economy.
"We can’t even have an economy if we’re not safe," Rubio said.
"There are radical jihadists out there beheading people and crucifying Christians. A radical cleric in Iran trying to get a nuclear weapon. The Chinese taking over the South China Sea. I don’t believe, I know that the world is a safer and better place when the United States is the strongest military power in the world," Rubio said.
The exchange highlighted a rift in the Republican Party between fusionist conservatives in the mold of Ronald Reagan and a vocal minority of libertarians like Paul and his father, Ron Paul.
Paul has emphasized his atypical views about American conservatism in recent weeks to court the libertarian voters who flocked to his father in past primary elections.
During the first Republican debate, Paul sparred with Gov. Chris Christie over the benefits of military power and counterterrorism programs like the NSA. Last week, Paul called Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton a neoconservative.