Jim Antle has a piece in the September issue of TAC arguing that Republicans may soon be forced for fiscal reasons to scale back their support for an interventionist foreign policy. He makes some good arguments as to why such a change might occur, but I’m not convinced. Antle’s argument goes awry here:
The federal government’s rapidly deteriorating financial condition is putting the expensive foreign policy favored by the neoconservatives and other hawks on a collision course with the anti-tax stance of many fiscal conservatives. This will not change the next time a Republican president takes the oath of office. (emphasis added)
What will change when a Republican president takes office is that debt and deficits won’t matter anymore. Antle’s argument requires that one take seriously the notion that Republicans care deeply about either limited government or balanced budgets. I don’t believe that these issues are what motivates either the base or the elected officials of the party.
We even have something of a controlled experiment from the last two decades of American political history. When Bill Clinton was in the White House; Republicans were deeply concerned with balancing the budget, cutting the size of government and seeing that the Constitutional niceties were followed when the U.S. military was deployed abroad. Anyone out there remember how a new batch of Republicans were going to change everything—in 1994?
Then George W. Bush became president in 2001, and suddenly deficits didn’t matter, the Republican leadership was willing to hold a vote open for a couple of hours to threaten and bribe their way to an unfunded Medicare expansion and critics of the Iraq War were little better than traitors. When Barack Obama became president in 2009, Republicans once again become deeply concerned with deficits and the expansion of government programs.
This leads me to the conclusion that what matters to Republicans is which team has the ball instead of abstract concepts as “limited government.” Republicans may get another chance in the near future. I am confident that if a President Perry or Bachmann takes office in 2013; government will not shrink, the debt limit will be raised repeatedly and those little Constitution pamphlets owned by Republicans will be gather dust. And I don’t expect any “Tea Party” demonstrations either.
UPDATE: Antle replies at the American Spectator, and in the comments Thomas O. Meehan writes that “One difference between the 1994 ‘Revolution’ and today is that many of Republican congressmen now have angry Tea Party constituents at their backs.” So why was there no “Tea Party” in 2003 when the Republicans expanded Medicare? I think the reason is obvious: the Tea Party is a motivated by hatred of the opposition not a movement for limited government and I don’t expect it to be active if a Republican becomes president.