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Home/Articles/‘America First’ Foreign Policy Gets Its Next Generation

‘America First’ Foreign Policy Gets Its Next Generation

While the 2024 future of former President Trump remains unclear, a new group of would-be congressmen are carrying his torch on foreign policy in 2022.

Andrew McCarthy cuts the figure that former President Donald Trump revered, for betterand worse, in his own staffing selections: “central casting.”

Crew-cutted, with a military background, and carrying himself near literally with chip on his shoulder, the millennial McCarthy is a part of a new breed: the next generation of would-be “MAGA” congressmen. In 2022, McCarthy’s campaign site might seem something of the Trumpist boilerplate. “Tyrannical globalists and Washington, D.C. elites have been chipping away at our region for years,” McCarthy reports. “They’ve intentionally gutted our economy: Shipped our jobs overseas, raised our taxes, and taken every dollar they can get from our small business owners. Every single day the mainstream media and the political elite hide the corruption of the Washington establishment. … Billions of dollars pour into Amazon, Apple, and Pfizer.”

But it’s easy to forget that seven short years ago, that might have been the kind of stuff more readily accessible on the website of a “liberal Democrat.” That is, after all, what former Vice President Dick Cheney called Donald Trump during his initial rampage through the 2016 Republican primary, when Trump assailed the legacy of the Iraq War: “He sounds like a liberal Democrat to me,” Cheney told Fox News.

Today, it is of course Cheney who stands with Democrats in one of the more bizarre twists in recent American political history. Cheney eventually endorsed Trump’s rise, but with his daughter Liz, the Wyoming clan has joined houses Bush, McCain, and Romney in rejecting the erstwhile president. Trump lost his only remaining defender from a GOP ticket (including his own vice president) with the death of party man Bob Dole last year. 

However, what Trump lacks in peers, he seems to make up in young followers trying to get to Capitol Hill. “In 2016, we delivered Donald Trump to an unprecedented victory and ushered in an era of unmatched global presence, national security, and economic prosperity,” says McCarthy, an upstate New Yorker. “It’s time to deliver again.”

McCarthy got more reassuring news last week, with the announced departure of Rep. John Katko, the fourth Republican Trump impeachment vote to head for the exits after this year. Depending on redistricting hijinks out of Albany, McCarthy will seek to represent a district more or less like Katko’s current one, or parts of another district, currently repped by Tom Reed (who last year said Trump must “face justice,” but declined to vote for his impeachment).

McCarthy obviously takes a different approach, buddying up with aggressive, younger congressmen such as Matt Gaetz of Florida and Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina. But the battlelines of the new GOP, especially on foreign policy, are becoming clear.

Group one is the Republican old guard ready to be rid of Trump (and in some limited cases turning on him explicitly). Group two is the Trumpist wing, eager to boost both the man himself and his neo-Buchananite worldview. There are, of course, Republicans who have turned on Trump, but not the issues that got him elected in 2016. But they appear to be hidden from the front benches of politics for the moment (though likely eyeing the brewing battle between Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis with keen interest).

McCarthy is of the new school of GOP foreign policy, and I spoke with him in person last month, and on the phone over the weekend.

“Here’s the thing,” McCarthy says of the hot issue of the moment, Russia. “They’re going to take all of Ukraine.” The Kremlin is “going to put a new prime minister in,” McCarthy told me and the United States has bigger fish to fry. McCarthy says he would happily work with the likely House Intelligence Committee chair next year, Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio.  Turner recently sparred with Fox host Tucker Carlson over the Russia issue, and McCarthy counts himself firmly in the Carlsonian school.

On China, McCarthy wants us out of the Beijing Olympics next month, and views it as a symbol of a greater approach. “You have to take the hit, man,” McCarthy says, meaning the short-term economic pain of decoupling, or all but, from the Chinese economy. “We can’t keep relying on them for manufacturing.” Though he would love to have manufacturing back in a big way stateside, McCarthy is willing to settle for “near-shoring,” if it comes to it, that is, make the stuff in India or the Philippines.

But McCarthy takes a clear stance in a restraint direction on the perhaps lynchpin issue of the China challenge: Taiwan. The war in Afghanistan “exposed us on a lot of levels,” the aspirant Congressman said. “And that domestic appetite that I keep going back to is simply gone.”

On that last score, I don’t agree. But from Joe Kent in Washington State, to young would-be senators, McCarthy’s overall approach would seem clearly a sign of things to come. 

about the author

Curt Mills is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, where he previously served as senior reporter. He specializes in foreign policy and campaign coverage and has worked at The National Interest, U.S. News and World Report, Washington Examiner, and the Spectator, and his work has appeared in UnHerd and Newsweek. He was a 2018-2019 Robert Novak Journalism fellow.

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