After our failed attempts to export Jeffersonian democracy to the Middle East, voters on both sides of the aisle yearn for realism and restraint. But such pleas have fallen on the deaf ears of both major-party establishments. This establishment believes in spreading democracy and liberty, and still intends to use American sons and daughters to do so. Yet the same crowd sees no contradiction when they argue the world would fall apart if we stopped sending tax dollars to foreign dictators and tyrants.
Two chief elders of the D.C. establishment worldview are Max Boot, currently at the Council on Foreign Relations, and Robert Kagan, currently a fellow at the Brookings Institution. Each has been hugely influential in the Republican Party and on U.S. policy. Kagan and Boot both advised John McCain during his 2008 presidential campaign, while Boot was a part of Mitt Romney’s failed 2012 presidential campaign. Kagan’s wife, Victoria Nuland, was in the Obama Administration, and was set to play a prominent role in a Hillary Clinton administration.
What exactly do Kagan and Boot believe? Both are known as neoconservatives. Kagan is famous for writing an article with Bill Kristol advocating for the removal of Saddam Hussein in 1998. Boot wrote an article in 2012 calling for American intervention in Syria’s civil war. Robert Kagan has called himself a “liberal interventionist,” and has likened Trump to Napoleon, Mussolini, and Hitler.
Boot says that he is “socially liberal … pro-LGBTQ rights, pro-abortion rights, pro-immigration,” but “fiscally conservative.” In Boot’s words, “I am strong on defense: I think we need to beef up our military to cope with multiple enemies. And I am very much in favor of America acting as a world leader: I believe it is in our own self-interest to promote and defend freedom and free markets as we have been doing in one form or another since at least 1898.” Boot made himself a bit more known to flyover country this year, when he accused Tucker Carlson of being a Russian stooge.
Middle America Deserves Better Than a Broken GOP
Just last week, in the Washington Post, Kagan penned an op-ed calling for the destruction of the GOP. In it, he reasons that Steve Bannon’s mission to challenge every Republican up for re-election this year “except for Ted Cruz” will be successful, and will render the GOP a minority party forevermore.
Max Boot chimed in to applaud the GOP’s coming destruction:
— Max Boot (@MaxBoot) October 12, 2017
The first and obvious problem with this sort of attitude is that it takes conservative voters to be moron hayseeds who have a shrine to Trump that they pray to before every meal. Conservative voters aren’t beholden to Trump, but they also aren’t beholden to people like Boot and Kagan, who have been wrong for 30 years and refuse to admit it. In fact, many conservative voters don’t love Trump in and of himself, but rather see him as a tool with which to destroy the GOP establishment, full as it is of people like Kagan and Boot.
Aside from the total arrogance on display in Kagan’s article, the other problem is that Boot and Kagan’s view of things is dominant among too many elected Republican officials. You may have never heard of Kagan or Boot, but they are hugely influential to the people you vote for. Issues like life, fatherlessness, and whether future generations will have the same opportunities as previous ones, matter little to this crowd. They are only useful to turn out the vote in Middle America.
Washington Elites Don’t Understand Conservative Voters
Steve Bannon is certainly not right about everything, but he is right that the interests of the establishment GOP align too little with the interests of conservative voters. Does this mean every Republican but Cruz should be subject to a primary challenge? No. But what it does mean is that the D.C. elite is completely out of touch.
Take Sen. Ben Sasse, who seems like a pretty likeable guy. Sasse has written an entire book about the vanishing American adult, but has said comparatively little about our country’s epidemic of fatherlessness, its causes, or policies that might work to undo family fragmentation. He rightly slammed Trump for a tongue-in-cheek comment about NBC’s license, and feels the president’s comment threatens our democracy. But he has said little about unelected intelligence bureaucrats intervening in U.S. politics and policy. And Sasse is one of the better guys in D.C.
Why is the D.C. elite out of touch? Much of it has to do with the way our parties are set up, and the fact that each states’ party establishment has a big say in who gets nominated to run in the general election before your run-of-the-mill voter has any say. We need elites who are both well-informed and not totally convinced of their mastery over the universe of truth. Right now, we have neither.
This matters because working Americans don’t have time to be public-policy experts. At some level, working Americans must trust the elites to do what is right. In a way, then, the Republican Party has already been destroyed. Not by Trump and Bannon, but by Kagan, Boot and their ilk, who have pulled the GOP away from the old-time religion of fiscal conservatism and foreign policy realism.
The GOP Is Too Comfortable With the Status Quo
Today, many Republicans claim to be fiscal conservatives, but they are fiscal fakers. President Eisenhower used to view tax cuts as a reward for finding and cutting wasteful spending. Even during the Cold War, money wasn’t to be plowed into defense spending if the result would be higher deficits. If America went to war or raised defense spending, taxes had to be raised to pay for it.
Today, many GOP politicians don’t see a spot on the map where we shouldn’t send our military. Contrast this with Eisenhower and Reagan, who both understood that Americans didn’t want their young people dying overseas unless it really was our fight. Nixon went to China to exploit the rift between Beijing and Moscow. It was the Democrats who got us into the Vietnam War, and Nixon and Ford who got us out.
But there is more to the divide between voters and their elected officials than the GOP abandoning its traditions. Despite what the WSJ editorial board thinks, conservative ire at GOP officials is not just about the GOP failing to pass tax reform—with $20 trillion in debt, and $10 trillion-plus of debt baked in the budget over the next decade, there is no room for a Reagan-style tax cut. Rather, much of the Republican Party is completely ignoring our crisis of fatherlessness, economic insecurity, and opioid epidemic, to name but a few major problems faced by our country. Far too many elected Republicans are comfortable with a status quo that is literally ruining the lives of everyday Americans.
Is It Time for Another Tea Party?
What needs to be done? Bannon, Trump, and Roy Moore are certainly not right about everything. Not at all. But there’s something to letting elected leaders, who don’t want to rock the boat, know that they will pay a political price for not rocking the boat. And there are certainly a few Republican senators who deserve to face primary challengers.
To fulfill a class requirement while in law school, I spent some time at the Minnesota state legislature. One day, I got to talking with a Democrat lobbyist. Here’s what he said:
So-and-so-Republican is a great guy. If you go in and say, do this and that for me and I can do this and that for you, they will do whatever. You can work with them. But the Tea Party is the worst thing that ever happened. You go to the Tea Party types and they say, I don’t care about being reelected and staying in office forever. I was elected saying one thing, and I’m not going to go and do the opposite.
Maybe D.C. needs some fresh blood, too.