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Greene discouraging military enlistments is part of a GOP pattern

Republicans are certainly allowed to criticize the military and discourage enlistments, but it's still a deeply strange political dynamic to watch.


It was seven years ago this week when former Gov. Mike Huckabee did something highly unusual. As the Arkansan prepared to launch another presidential campaign, the Republican said Americans shouldn’t enlist in the U.S. military until after Barack Obama’s presidency ended.

As a rule, politicians don’t publicly discourage Americans from signing up for military service, which made it all the more surprising when Huckabee did it anyway.

Almost exactly seven years later, Newsweek noted another Republican saying something similar.

Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has said joining the military is like “throwing your life away” due to President Joe Biden’s foreign policies. Speaking to former Fox News host Lou Dobbs’ podcast on April 9, Greene listed other reasons why people should not join the military, including the vaccine mandate and “woke” training.

When the host asked who “in his or her right mind” would enlist in the U.S. military, the right-wing congresswoman said, “Not my son and I know a lot of young people don’t want to have anything to do with that. It’s like throwing your life away.”

The Republican added, “Not to mention how they’ve been forced to take the vaccine and the ones that didn’t want to take it have been discharged. Who wants to be treated that way?” (Remember, depending on where servicemembers may be deployed, American troops were already required to receive up to 17 different vaccinations before Covid. This wasn’t considered controversial.)

For good measure, Greene, in a possible nod to adherents of the QAnon delusion, went on to say that she believes servicemen and women have to undergo training in “this ridiculous ideology of the sick and satanic left.”

NBC News’ Sahil Kapur noted this morning that it’s difficult to “imagine the reaction if a member of Congress said this about the military” in the recent past. He added that it “seems doubtful they’d remain a House Republican in good standing with the caucus.”

I think that’s right. And yet, here we are.

But just as notable is the degree to which the Georgia lawmaker’s bizarre rhetoric fits into a larger pattern. Earlier this year, for example, Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas complained that the U.S. military is overly interested in addressing structural racism and climate change.

A week earlier, Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida said, “[O]ur military has become the woke military, not the lethal military.” A few months before that, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy added, “[O]ur military is focused on woke-ism instead of defeating and winning war.”

Nearly a year ago, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz promoted a Russian military video via social media, adding, “Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea.” The same day, the Texan added that Democrats and journalists intend to turn American troops “into pansies.”

All the while, several GOP senators, including Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, have abused Senate rules to block Defense Department nominees, even in the midst of an international security crisis.

Circling back to our coverage from January, part of what makes the Republicans' antics so notable is the degree to which they break with traditional political norms. Politicians in the United States are certainly allowed to criticize the military, its leaders, and/or rank-and-file troops — it’s a free country — but few do so. There’s no great mystery as to why: American politicians who disparage their own country’s military risk facing questions about their patriotism.

Discouraging Americans from enlisting in the military is even more dramatic.

There was some polling in 2020 showing troops’ votes shifting a bit in Democrats’ direction. I don’t imagine Republicans’ recent rhetoric will help reverse the trend.