Ace Newsbeast security reporter Eli Lake explores the budgetary and strategy divides between GOP defense hawks and GOP deficit hawks. The order of battle: having committed to the first principle of deficit reduction* in the current Congress, the GOP has no stable argument for carving out defense as an exception. So the opponents of defense cuts are trying to sell that argument internally. F'r instance:
“How many people like Ronald Reagan?” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked the crowd. A bunch of Republican Hill aides dutifully raised their hands.
“And how many people like peace through strength?” More hands raised. Then Graham, an Air Force reservist colonel, asked, “What the hell happened to that party?”
OK, so the Tea Party can simply rejoinder: cutting defense spending to the point where it's just five times greater than what China spends would be a massive, massive cut and still not imperil national security. The defense hawks are making a budgetary argument, not a strategy argument, and hoping no one sees the difference. The defense doves are also making a budgetary argument, not a strategy argument, because they're not typically interested in defense strategy, just currently interested in the first-question argument that everything should be cut.
The strategy argument is this: we want U.S. defense to do _____ and because of that, we need to spend ______. That template is something hawks and doves can agree on, and then we can all argue about the specifics of instantiating it. Historically, hawks are skittish about making this first-principle case, because being blunt about defense strategy often comes across as grandiose overcommitment to the average voter. And it also makes the doves sound less dovish than the caricature would have it.
Still: poor Tea Party. All you want to do is preserve the prospect of cutting defense, and Lindsey Graham says you're betraying the Reagan legacy.
* awaiting Matthew Yglesias' admonishment for adopting this phraseology