After the Bush/Cheney era ended, and Tea Partiers became ascendant in Republican politics, the party was presented with a rare opportunity for self-definition. Specifically on foreign policy, what kind of party would the GOP be?
There were even some competing factions making their case. One contingent, led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and his allies, envisioned a more isolationist approach with a modest dose of civil libertarianism applied to the national security state. Another contingent, led by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) insisted Republicans stick to the neoconservative model, it’s catastrophic failures during the Bush/Cheney era notwithstanding.
Dan Drezner, a center-right foreign-policy expert, argued persuasively yesterday that the debate, such as it was, is over. The GOP’s “journey to the hawk side,” he said, “is now complete.” Specifically, Drezner was considering the question of whether Bill Kristol still matters in contemporary politics.
[E]ven though Republican voters are genuinely split about the Iran negotiations, the 2016 GOP field and the folks who are funding them are not split at all. There continues to be hawkish outbidding on Iran in particular and foreign policy in general in order to appease key financial backers – all of whom share Kristol’s basic worldview. The lone exception, Rand Paul, has been on the defensive since his announcement earlier this week.To be clear, I’m really not saying that any of this is [Bill] Kristol’s doing. I’m saying that, on the GOP side of the ledger, it doesn’t matter whether Kristol matters. In 2016, it’s still Kristol’s world – or, rather, his worldview.
The evidence that emerged just this week is hard to overlook. Not only are GOP presidential hopefuls tripping over each other to condemn – and vow to destroy – international nuclear diplomacy with Iran, but Jeb Bush was reportedly poised to hire a new member of his national security team, only to back off when the aide was deemed insufficiently friendly to the neocon cause.
This, of course, follows Bush backing away from former Secretary of State James Baker – perhaps the most respected member of his father’s national security team – who dared to publicly criticize Benjamin Netanyahu’s disrespectful antics towards the United States.
Even Rand Paul, ostensibly the leading GOP voice at odds with the neoconservatives, signed the Iran sabotage letter, pushed for increased defense spending, and abandoned his position on cutting off U.S. aid to Israel.
And he’s the least hawkish of the bunch.
If there was a fight for the Republican foreign-policy vision, it’s over – and it was a quick, first-round knockout. The country may not embrace the neocon vision, and there may be some discord among GOP voters about the neocon vision, but when it comes to presidential politics, every candidate but one will be an aggressive hawk – and the one exception campaigned yesterday in front of an aircraft carrier.