McCain: Voting between Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton would be 'tough choice'

Sen. John McCainJohn McCainKerry: US 'on the verge' of suspending talks with Russia on Syria Trump, Clinton to headline Al Smith dinner Overnight Defense: Congress overrides Obama 9/11 veto | Pentagon breathes easy after funding deal | More troops heading to Iraq MORE (R-Ariz.) joked that it would be a tough decision to vote for Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulLawmaker seeks to investigate Obama's foreign tax compliance law Funding bill rejected as shutdown nears GOP senators hit FBI on early probe of NY bombing suspect MORE (R-Ky.) over Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonOvernight Tech: Wheeler says box vote a question of timing | Dems push back against ICANN suit | Waze rolls out ride-hail Overnight Cybersecurity: Report - Trump briefed Russia behind DNC hacks before saying they might not be Chuck Todd clashes with Trump aide over 'bogus' online polls MORE if both won their party’s presidential nomination in 2016.

“It’s gonna be a tough choice,” McCain said with a laugh when asked about it in an interview with the New Republic published Tuesday. 

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McCain clarified that he believes Paul is trying to expand the GOP brand, and that he represents the same libertarian-leaning part of the party once represented by his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).

However, McCain heaped praise on another prospective Republican presidential candidate in 2016, Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioThe Trail 2016: Just a little kick Opposition to Obama's radical disarmament agenda has proven effective Independent candidate sues to get on Florida Senate debate stage MORE (Fla.). He called Rubio a “valuable candidate for president” and said his push for immigration reform will not impede his presidential prospects, harkening back to his own failed bid in 2008.

“He has a bright future in the party,” he said. “He is a valuable candidate for president. Some people say this will set him back, but remember, I got the nomination of the party after failing on immigration in 2007.”

McCain has had numerous dustups this year with the Tea Party-fueled wing of the GOP this year. He opposed Paul’s filibuster of CIA director John Brennan’s nomination over the U.S. use of drones, and described Paul, Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzFour states sue to stop internet transition House approves stopgap funding, averting costly shutdown Overnight Tech: TV box plan faces crucial vote | Trump transition team to meet tech groups | Growing scrutiny of Yahoo security MORE (R-Texas) and Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashHouse Freedom Caucus member slows floor business House votes to block Gitmo transfers Republican exodus from Trump grows MORE (R-Mich.) as “wacko birds.”

In the interview, he said the isolationist wing of the GOP has been strengthened by the recession.

“There was an isolationist wing that fought against Reagan. And now the bad economy has exacerbated what has always been out there,” he said.

McCain attempted to separate Paul’s brand of conservatism from his former running mate in 2008, Sarah Palin, arguing her message was positive.

“They came to power to keep things from getting done,” McCain said.

Reflecting on his own legacy, he said he has had the best ride, but still expressed some regret from his failed 2008 bid for president.

“Am I happy? I’d like to be president of the United States,” he said.