Home/Daniel Larison/Herman Cain and the Tea Party

Herman Cain and the Tea Party

Sadly, Mr. Cain will take up valuable time in GOP debates spouting this childish nonsense, further draining the water out of the candidate pool as he dives toward arguments with John Bolton and Rick Santorum over who is more hawkish. But to say Tea Party aligned candidates (and in the 2012 field everyone is going to be Tea Party “aligned,” with praise coming as standard as hosannas to Ronald Reagan) will bring nothing new to the foreign policy debate within the 2012 campaign is not accurate. We don’t know the make-up of the entire field and if it’s true that politicians like Cain are taking their cues from the Tea Parties and will say anything outlandish in order to impress them, they may well be sending different signals in 2011-12 than they did in 2007-08. ~Sean Scallon

It’s true that everyone in the 2012 field is going to make praise of the Tea Party into part of their boilerplate rhetoric. In fact, I wasn’t making quite the sweeping claim about all Tea Party-aligned candidates that Sean seems to think I did. I was referring only to Cain, who is a favorite of Tea Party activists notwithstanding his completely conventional views on these matters. If we must challenge Tea Partiers on these issues, as Sean has argued before, that has to include identifying the popular spokesmen among them who are ignoring the fiscal and political costs of the national security state. Cain is one of these. If he simply speaks for himself, his audience does not seem unduly bothered by his embrace of Bush’s foreign policy. Perhaps there are good reasons for that. It may be that he doesn’t dwell on those issues, or it may be that his audience is willing to overlook disagreements because they find the rest of his arguments appealing. It is also quite possible that most Tea Partiers are not bothered by Cain’s views on these issues because they share them.

As far as probable 2012 contenders associated with the Tea Party are concerned, he is fairly representative in the foreign policy positions he takes. That doesn’t rule out valuable contributions to the debate from Gary Johnson or Ron Paul, who can also claim connections with some Tea Party activists. The lack of alternatives may help give the foreign policy and national security arguments put forward by Johnson and/or Paul that much more attention. Nonetheless, virtually every other likely 2012 candidate largely shares Cain’s views on foreign policy, military spending, and the national security state. If several of them are closely associated with Tea Party activists, surely one of the best favors we can do for those activists is to emphasize that many of the politicians and spokesmen they have been cheering hold views on the role of government overseas that is incompatible with the desire to reduce the size, scope, and power of the government. Part of challenging Tea Party activists to think about the fiscal and political costs of perpetual war and empire has to involve pointing out that their would-be leaders lack credibility as fiscal conservatives and defenders of constitutional liberty.

Let’s look at the probable contenders who actually merit some identification with Tea Partiers based on their appearance at Tea Party events, their self-definition as members of the Tea Party Caucus (if they are House members), and the enthusiastic reception from Tea Party activists that they get. Two House members who have improbably been receiving a lot of attention in recent days as possible 2012 contenders are Mike Pence and Michele Bachmann, both of whom belong to the House Tea Party Caucus and both of whom have been regular speakers at Tea Party events. For their part, Pence and Bachmann have been better on some of the major votes on spending and bailouts than many of their colleagues (both voted against TARP, and Pence also voted against Medicare Part D), but they are both reliably on board with the hawks of their party. Bachmann and Pence were among the co-sponsors of H.R. 1553, which expressed support for an Israeli attack on Iran. The resolution is not binding and has simply been referred to committee, where it may languish, but their support for it reflects the warped understanding of national security issues that the two of them have.

Things go downhill from there. Rick Santorum is presenting himself as a Tea Party-style candidate, and he is definitely preparing to run, and his super-hawkishness on foreign policy is so well known that I don’t think it needs much more comment. I have already remarked at some length on Marco Rubio’s foreign policy views here, and more recently Rubio has shown himself to be true to his word that he will be a dead-ender for outdated, misguided Cuba policy. The less said about Palin, the better for everyone. Larry Sabato counted and rated 19 possible Republican candidates, and of those perhaps three offer something other than the conventional line. What may be most telling in all of this is that the one relatively mainstream Republican candidate willing to talk about reducing military spending is Mitch Daniels, who has no particular association with Tea Party activists.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

leave a comment