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Hawkish Democrats, Anti-War Republicans? Thank Trump

Imagine if, during President George W. Bush’s occupation of Iraq, someone had predicted that in about a decade, Republican voters would oppose war more than Democrats. Few would have believed it.

Yet according to new polling, it’s happening. It might even be President Donald Trump’s greatest accomplishment to date.

The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald broke down this new data in a recent piece in which he claims Democrats are “becoming far more militaristic and pro-war than Republicans.” Greenwald says that while the overwhelming majority of Washington elites opposed—or, more accurately, had a total meltdown over—Trump’s December announcement that he would withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, polling data from Morning Consult/Politico shows that 49 percent of Americans support the decision while 33 percent oppose it.

Pluralities or majorities of Americans being tired of war is not new. This is: “[W]hat is remarkable about the new polling data on Syria is that the vast bulk of support for keeping troops there comes from Democratic Party voters, while Republicans and independents overwhelming favor their removal,” Greenwald writes.

“The numbers are stark: Of people who voted for Clinton in 2016, only 26 percent support withdrawing troops from Syria, while 59 percent oppose it,” he notes.

And then the kicker: “Trump voters overwhelmingly support withdraw by 76 percent to 14 percent.”

Seventy-six percent? Think about that number. More than three quarters of GOP voters today want to support the troops by bringing them home. A position that was once denounced as “unpatriotic” is now apparently part of making America great again.

Greenwald also notes that the poll shows similar results among those who voted Democrat in the midterm election, with 28 percent supporting withdrawal and 54 percent opposing it.

How did Republican midterm election voters feel aboutcutting and runningin Syria? Seventy-four percent support withdrawal and 18 percent oppose it, results similar to Trump presidential election voter opinions.

That is a hell of a sea change among the Republican rank and file.

Greenwald also analyzed how this drastic attitudinal foreign policy shift applied to Afghanistan. “Identical trends can be seen on the question of Trump’s announced intention to withdraw half of the U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan, where Democrats are far more supportive of keeping troops there than Republicans and independents,” he writes.

“This case is even more stark since Obama ran in 2008 on a pledge to end the war in Afghanistan and bring all troops home,” he continues. “Throughout the Obama years, polling data consistently showed that huge majorities of Democrats favored a withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan” (emphasis in the original).

Finally ending America’s longest war had been popular with Democrats and just about everyone else before Trump. But while Greenwald successfully makes the case that anti-Trump hysteria is the main culprit behind Democrats’ ongoing neocon morph, this change on foreign policy was also likely sown by liberals’ Obama experience.

While dedicated minorities of anti-war conservatives and progressives did their best to publicize and condemn Obama’s ghastly record on drone strikes, regime change, executive orders, and the unconstitutional killing of American citizens, none of this received any serious pushback or even acknowledgment from Democrats during his tenure. The left mostly just accepted it. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld were easy for liberals to hate. Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Leon Panetta, not so much.

Anti-war Democrats who once wanted to charge Bush with war crimes simply didn’t find those transgressions criminal when their president did it.

So if American intervention in Syria was once considered more acceptable to liberals because Obama was doing it, would it not also make sense for Democratic voters to rationalize that Trump seeking to undo Obama’s Syria policy is inherently bad? Similarly, if enthusiasm for foreign intervention was a conservative litmus test during the Bush years, many Republicans likely now see Syria withdrawal as cleaning up Obama’s mess.

This is probably why Senator Lindsey Graham, a vocal opposer of U.S. withdrawal from Syria, immediately tried to characterize Trump’s decision as an “Obama-like mistake.” It’s also why the more realist—and correct—Senator Mike Lee shot back, “This is the opposite of an Obama decision. Obama got us involved. Trump has taken us out.” 

He who controls the partisan narrative is most likely to influence policy.

This polling data seems to reflect that Trump, more any other factor, has been the primary driver of Republicans becoming more pro-peace and Democrats becoming less anti-war. I used to worry that a president Hillary Clinton would make Democrats more militaristic. It turns out a Trump presidency is doing the same thing.

“It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world,” George W. Bush once said.

“America first,” Donald Trump says. For now, Republicans agree with him.

Jack Hunter is the former political editor of Rare.us and co-authored the 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington with Senator Rand Paul.

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