At the time of this writing, the outcome of the 2020 presidential election remains unclear. Final tabulations in multiple states remain days away, while other declared results are already being challenged. While both candidates can claim a path to victory in the Electoral College, the edge clearly belongs to former vice president Joe Biden.
If Donald Trump is defeated, whither the hopes of conservative restrainers?
“Backwards,” whisper the creatures emerging from their crawlspaces at the first opportunity. On the eve of the election, for example, Politico published a fawning profile of Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who is laying the groundwork to become speaker of the House in a future Republican majority. An ideological mirror of her father, she and her cohort long for a restoration of the early 2000s Bushite foreign policy of globe-trotting regime change and democratic nation building administered by a national security state in Washington D.C.
Their cause, however, is as infertile as their past efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is because despite his poor record, Donald Trump has created a permanent and growing disconnect between the War Party and the GOP.
There is no need to sugarcoat how Donald Trump has squandered four years of opportunity in foreign policy. His promises to bring the troops home have not materialized and remain “promises” to be kept at a permanently delayed date. He has intensified U.S. interference in Yemen, Syria, Somalia, and Venezuela. He’s overseen the continued deterioration of relations with Russia, while leaving North Korea at the diplomatic altar. And he’s brought the United States and Iran into a first exchange of direct, open conflict.
A big-picture assessment, however, requires not looking at how Trump failed to bring what restrainers wanted, but how he succeeded in destroying what they needed gone.
Trump’s election caused the departure of the most loathsome of the war peddlers—including Bill Kristol, David Frum, Jamie Kirchick, Steve Schmidt, and Max Boot—from Republican ranks. United under the banner of “Never Trump,” for four years they used every inch of column space, every CNN interview, and a small fortune to cleave off a portion of the Republican base that they believed would be happy to return to the world of 2006.
The result? Exit polls show Trump winning 93 percent of the Republican vote, a higher percentage than he won in 2016. As an election post-mortem summarized, Never Trump hawks “basically do not exist anywhere outside of the Washington Beltway or cable news green rooms—and after tonight’s results, we shouldn’t have to see them on TV or even see their tweets ever again.”
That the average American has the same respect for the War Party’s minions as they have for a tobacco executive should come as no surprise. Polling continually shows a supermajority of Americans ready and eager to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan. That includes 77 percent of Republicans, 40 percent of whom want to decrease military engagement with the rest of the world as well. These voters are a vanguard that will stop any future Bushite ascendance, whether from Nikki Haley or the spawn of Dick Cheney.
Slowly, Republican members of Congress are beginning to reflect the wishes of their voters. One year ago this month, I wrote about the emerging cadre of antiwar conservatives in the House of Representatives. While most broke under pressure to support Trump’s escalation with Iran, not all did. It’s a more active and vocal Republican contingent than has existed for decades and it’s growing fast. Following Tuesday’s results, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming will join Rand Paul and Mike Lee in the U.S. Senate, while Nancy Mace of South Carolina will lock arms with Representatives Thomas Massie and Matt Gaetz. Both women are vetted and proven war skeptics who are determined to challenge Liz Cheney at every turn.
Beyond government, the creative destruction brought by the Trump presidency in conservative circles has given a new lease on life to restrainers long excluded from the Beltway’s incestuous institutions. That includes the continued ascension of publications like The American Conservative, which has become a wheelhouse for the most important foreign policy conversations happening on the right; Tucker Carlson, whose program has become the highest rated in cable news history, no doubt aided by his antiwar opening monologues; the Quincy Institute, which is dragging other think tanks kicking and screaming into dialogues about shifting U.S. positioning overseas; and activist organizations like BringOurTroopsHome.US, a collection of right-of-center veterans who are lobbying to end the country’s unconstitutional wars.
The American empire was formed over the course of a century, and currently encompasses over 850 overseas military bases. Hundreds of billions of dollars are exchanged every year through facets of the military-industrial complex, while thousands of very powerful people make their cushy salaries off the current imperialistic system (and will fight tooth and nail to keep it that way).
One election was never going to change that. Donald Trump was never going to be a miracle worker. But he’s kicked in the door and let us in, even if we wish he’d tidied up better before he left.
We have principled leaders in government. We have the infrastructure. And most importantly, we have the voters. Liz Cheney and her misbegotten hangers-on may not realize it yet, but their heyday has long past. It’s our party now and we’re going to bring America home.
Hunter DeRensis is the communications director of BringOurTroopsHome.US and a regular contributor to The American Conservative. Follow him on Twitter @HunterDeRensis.
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