Populists on the right are now openly challenging Republican war lust
The fight on the right for what constitutes a conservative or Republican foreign policy continues. This time the battlefront is Russia and Ukraine.
That there is a fissure on this issue among conservatives is in a way, a big deal, showing that the “America First” restraint approach that garnered support among the base didn’t go away completely when power changed hands in Washington and its chief advocate, Donald Trump, left town. Unfortunately, many Republicans have gone back to form and are talking like it’s the post 9/11-era — as if Trump’s criticisms of George W. Bush’s wars and nation-building had no effect on their party whatsoever.
First up, habitually hawkish GOP Congressman Dan Crenshaw recently told Fox News that “there needs to be clear consequences for what (Russia does) because we’ve failed to deter and now you’re inviting conflict.”
Sounding like a Bush-Cheney-era neoconservative, Crenshaw added, “It’s a very bad situation and we’ve left ourselves without many options as a result.”
One doesn’t have to ponder long about what Crenshaw thinks of the military option.
Republican Congressman Michael McCaul had a similar message, telling CNN last week, “I don’t think we’re providing the deterrence necessary to stop Putin from invading Ukraine, the breadbasket of Russia.”
What kind of “deterrence” does McCaul want to see?
Republican Senator Joni Ernst also joined the hawks, telling CNN, “When it comes to pushing back against Russia, we need to show strength and not be in a position of doctrine of appeasement, which seems to be how President Biden has worked his administration.”
Popular Fox News personality Tucker Carlson apparently had enough of such talk, and cited both Crenshaw and McCaul’s interviews in his opening monologue last week and Ernst’s on Monday night. Carlson warned his viewers that the U.S. was being pushed toward a new war by the usual self-interested suspects, which included politicians, the media, and the defense industry.
“Those are our leaders, totally ignorant, just reading the script. It’d be nice to hear someone in the press corps, because it’s their job, ask the obvious follow up, which would be: Why exactly, Sen. Ernst, do you believe it’s so vital to send more lethal aid to Ukraine and to “go ahead and impose” more sanctions on Russia? Why? How would she answer that question?
We’ll never know how she’d answer, because no one in the media would ever ask her.
In last week’s monologue he cited prominent Democrats like Rep. Adam Schiff saying basically the same thing as Crenshaw and McCaul on Ukraine. “Oh, they’re all red in the face, but it’s not the usual partisan chorus. This is the entire choir. You just saw representatives from every faction in Washington, from Adam Schiff to Dan Crenshaw, not as different as they seem, and all the dummies in between. And all of them are promoting war against Russia on behalf of our new and deeply beloved ally, the government of Ukraine,” he mocked.
This week, suddenly more conservatives and Republicans began speaking out against the prospect of U.S. military action in the region.
“The United States should not be involved in any future war in Ukraine,” charged libertarian populist Republican Congressman Thomas Massie on Monday.
“The neocons/warmongers have spent years stoking the new cold war with Russia and have now brought us to the brink in Ukraine — this serves their own interests, and lines the pocket of the Military Industrial Complex with trillion$,” tweeted right-wing friendly Democrat and former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. “Let’s not be sheep.”
Populist Republican U.S. Senate candidate and “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance tweeted on Monday, “Billions spent on the Kennedy school, grand strategies seminars, and the Georgetown school of foreign service has bought us an elite that’s about to blunder us into a Ukraine war.”
Veteran and Conservative Virginia State Rep. Nick Freitas on Sunday accused the Biden administration of potentially getting America into a war as a distraction, tweeting, “Another Foreign War…When you absolutely, positively, have to distract the general public from the failure of your domestic policies.”
Charlie Kirk, leader of the conservative youth group Turning Point USA, also weighed in, tweeting Monday, “You should be against going to War with Russia.”
Kirk added, “Why is the President of the United States willing to send Americans to die protecting European Sovereignty? If our NATO ‘Allies’ aren’t even willing to fund their obligations and surge their own troops to protect their borders, why should we?”
With a split senate and Democrats controlling the House and Executive Branch, what the U.S. does or doesn’t do in Ukraine is largely in President Biden’s hands. And obviously, being against a Democratic president’s wars is easier for Republicans than when their own party is sitting in the White House. This was apparent when Republicans felt emboldened to check President Obama on his Syria, and to some extent his Libya interventions.
But Americans are more tired of war than ever, which is why Trump’s views on global policing and nation building did so well with GOP voters. This may be more than just who holds all the marbles. With Republicans predicted to do well in the 2022 midterms and the potential for turning the tables in 2024, the base is critical, and where it stands on foreign policy could matter quite a deal in the near future. Will the GOP look more like George W. Bush or reflect what Donald Trump often said about war, even if he didn’t always follow through?
At a minimum the foreign policy temperature on the right is not exactly where it once was, and whatever impact “America First” continues to have on Republicans, it’s a long way from all of them uniformly accusing anyone in their party of “blaming America first’” for even daring to question U.S. foreign policy.