The headline on populist nationalist firebrand Pat Buchanan’s column following the death of Sen. John McCain asks a crucial question: “Are the Interventionists Now Leaderless?”
Buchanan’s commentary summarized McCain’s lengthy career of supporting active U.S. interventionism into the affairs of other nations just about anywhere an opportunity presented itself. Buchanan also noted that the endless war that resulted from his positions finally led to his estrangement from Republican voters.
“By 2016, the Republican majority would turn its back on McCain and his protégé, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and nominate Donald Trump, who said he would seek to get along with Russia and extricate America from the wars into which McCain had helped plunge the country,” Buchanan writes.
Another old McCain nemesis, Ron Paul, via his Ron Paul Institute, also detailed McCain’s nonstop hawkishness abroad, which resulted in the institute labeling him as “the Energizer Bunny of interventionism.”
Both Buchanan and the Ron Paul Institute concede that the neocon forces that pushed continual U.S. foreign adventurism for 30 years are still powerful behind-the-scenes players.
This is undoubtedly true and will continue to be so for some time, even as President Trump attempts to turn away from “democracy building” overseas and put the interests of the American people first.
Who Will Step Up?
But if the forces of interventionism remain with us, who will be their public champion now that McCain has departed the scene?
With his appointment as National Security Advisor to Trump, longtime neocon stalwart John Bolton might appear to be a logical candidate.
But Bolton serves better as one of those behind-the-curtain actors. He knows how to navigate certain mechanisms of federal power but as a public spokesman is underwhelming to say the least.
Walrus-like and bookish, Bolton has been splashing around in The Swamp for decades. As such, he comes across as a stale reminder of the George W. Bush years that most Republicans can’t run away from fast enough.
He can talk a tough game on television but lacks the charisma or any sense of charm whatsoever that would make him an effective public spokesman for foreign policy hawks.
A look at Congress is also exceedingly underwhelming.
Sen. Lindsey Graham’s insert-punchline-here run for the presidency in 2016 showcased how deeply unpopular, if not repellent, he is to the American people.
Sen. Marco Rubio was touted as a rising star a few years ago, only to reveal himself as an automaton with no ability to think on his feet or articulate actual beliefs on the national stage.
Radio host Michael Savage perfectly summed up Rubio with his brutal dismissal of the smiling lightweight as “The Ice Cream Man.”
Perhaps the biggest pretender to the throne, however, with emphasis on the word pretender, is United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Briefly seen as yet another rising interventionist “star” in 2017, Haley has seen her fortunes wane as her overly eager tough talk on Russia has so clearly cut against the intentions of the administration she works for.
“We don’t trust Russia; we don’t trust [Russian President Vladimir] Putin; we never will,” Haley told CBN in July.
“They’re never going to be our friend. That’s just a fact.”
This bold bumper sticker statement of course directly contradicts the stated desire of President Trump – Haley’s boss – to establish cordial relations with Putin and Russia, if possible.
“It’s not a question of friend or enemy. He’s not my enemy,” Trump has said of Putin.
“And hopefully some day maybe he’ll be a friend. It could happen. But I just don’t know him very well.”
Just why Haley feels her Tough Gal stance projects strength as opposed to making her look woefully out of touch with the administration she is supposedly a part of is a mystery.
“With all due respect, I don’t get confused,” Haley barked when denying White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow’s claim that Haley got ahead of herself in prematurely announcing sanctions against Russia in April that in fact never came.
Instead of merely admitting that she misspoke Haley revealed she is not involved in the foreign policy-making pipeline in the Trump administration.
I.e., she is not a player.
On Their Way Out
Perhaps there will be no interventionist leader to step up and replace McCain in the Republican ranks for the simple reason that, with the ascendance of Trump, the interventionists are giving up the Republican Party.
Powerful neocon Swamp personnel Robert Kagan and Max Boot both pointed in this direction in October 2017.
Boot tweeted a Kagan article that seemed to wave the white flag before the Trump Red Wave:
— Max Boot (@MaxBoot) October 12, 2017
The passing of John McCain may turn out to be the Appomattox moment for the neoconservative faction that hijacked Ronald Reagan’s second term as president and ruled the establishment roost within the GOP for three decades.
“Today, many GOP politicians don’t see a spot on the map where we shouldn’t send our military,” Willis L. Krumholz, a fellow at Defense Priorities, writes at The Federalist.
“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.”
Yes, Republican neocon interventionists are still with us. But they may find themselves leaderless as Donald Trump reshapes the Republican Party in line with authentic American interests.
They may soon find themselves politically homeless as well.