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Public Opinion and Foreign Policy (II)

Scott Galupo sounds [1] the alarm for Republican realists after reading the latest Pew survey [2]:

As with proposals to reform popular entitlement programs, GOP voters appear to have a low pain threshold. “Take it out of the other guy’s hide” thus has its foreign-policy equivalent: “Dovish, when all is quiet.”

I talked about these results a little bit last week [3]. It still strikes me as more important that demand for a more activist foreign policy is still quite weak in the country as a whole, and the desire to “do more” doesn’t have the support of a majority of Republicans. Despite months of alarmist coverage and overreactions from Republican politicians to foreign events, more than half of the party doesn’t buy into the idea that the U.S. ought to be doing more around the world. Republican elites are using all the usual lines to rally support for aggressive policies, but they aren’t having the same success that they did a decade ago.

It’s certainly true that Republican opinion has shifted significantly over the last year (the “too little” response rose by 28 points since last November). That suggests that many of these respondents have very changeable views on the subject, but that also implies that those views could change back again as conditions change. 37% of Republicans still think the U.S. is doing too much, so there is a significant bloc among Republicans that hasn’t been swayed by the current wave of panic and demagoguery. The likely 2016 Republican field will have quite a few hawkish competitors, and these candidates will probably split the more hawkish voters four or five ways. As they cannibalize one another’s support, they will also be trying to take the most hard-line positions to show how “tough” they would be as president. In the process, they’ll also be driving away somewhat hawkish voters that still aren’t interested in having the U.S. policing multiple foreign conflicts. The more specific that these candidates have to be about what they intend to do in office, the harder it will be for them to sell an activist foreign policy because it will be harder to hide what it will cost the U.S., which is ultimately what has driven so many Republicans in the direction of preferring restraint.

There also aren’t that many non-Republicans that believe the U.S. is doing “too little,” which means that a Republican nominee running on a platform of increased foreign policy activism will be on the wrong side of a large majority of the larger electorate. There may be a surge in support for having the U.S. do more in the world, but there still aren’t that many supporters for greater activism. Candidates that make the mistake of believing that aggressive foreign policy isn’t a political liability are likely to be in for a rude awakening.

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14 Comments To "Public Opinion and Foreign Policy (II)"

#1 Comment By that is the question On September 2, 2014 @ 4:52 pm

I wonder how much the respondents know about how much the United States is already doing around the world …

Hundreds of embassies, thousands of consulates, hundreds of trade missions, membership in hundreds of international organizations, nearly a thousand overseas military bases, trillions in foreign aid every decade, a dominant naval presence in all the world’s oceans, near complete control of the global internet and satellite infrastructure, and owner of the de facto global currency.

Plus we listen to everyone’s conversations and read everyone’s mail.

Now come again and ask me whether we need to “do more around the world”.

What kind of radically uninformed mind would even formulate a question like this?

#2 Comment By philadelphialawyer On September 2, 2014 @ 6:51 pm

“The likely 2016 Republican field will have quite a few hawkish competitors, and these candidates will probably split the more hawkish voters four or five ways. As they cannibalize one another’s support, they will also be trying to take the most hard-line positions to show how ‘tough’ they would be as president…The more specific that these candidates have to be about what they intend to do in office, the harder it will be for them to sell an activist foreign policy because it will be harder to hide what it will cost the U.S….There also aren’t that many non-Republicans that believe the U.S. is doing ‘too little,’ which means that a Republican nominee running on a platform of increased foreign policy activism will be on the wrong side of a large majority of the larger electorate.”

That is an excellent, concise statement of the box the GOP has built for itself in presidential elections. Indeed, the same or a similar model exists for domestic issues. GOP presidential primaries are now bidding wars…who can be the most against taxes, “the government,” the poor, the environment, and immigrants. Who can dog whistle the loudest on racial issues. And, combine with that who can be the loudest, most belligerent and most unrealistic on FP, and you have a race to disaster.

Even with turning on a dime after Labor Day, the GOP candidate, whoever he is, has saddled himself with unpopular ideas, some of them bordering on crazy. All the money in the world can’t then sell the general electorate on that nominee.

Perhaps that’s why the GOP has lost the popular vote in five out of the last six presidential elections, and its one win, given the circumstance (9-11, compromised candidate Kerry) was hardly impressive. Even though the GOP, in the end, does nominate a moderate (Dole, Bush II ((he seemed moderate)), McCain, Romney), still, these candidates have had to do and say some crazy stuff, to beat back the even crazier yahoo candidates. It is not just the pizza guys and preachers and Trumps and what not who seem to be attractive, at least superficially, at least as first, to the GOP primary voters, but even supposedly serious candidates like Santorum and Gingrich, who are so out of the mainstream, so far “out there,” that the Romneys and McCains have to tack way, way to the right to knock them out.

And each cycle it seems to get worse and worse. Romney had all the money, organization and endorsements, in the world, and yet he had to go the distance, to the bitter end, almost, to get rid of Santorum. And Santorum, whatever you might think of him (and regardless of how much I loathe him) is a guy who lost by a million votes as a sitting Senator in his own, not all that liberal, State.

While, of course, the phenomenon of appealing to ideological party regulars in the primaries and then tacking to the center is an old one, the current Dems have nothing like Santorums in their primaries. No Dem primary candidate who has held out to the end, winning caucus after caucus, and challenging in the big State primaries, has been so far out of the mainstream as Santorum in years, if not decades. Hillary went the distance in 2008, but she was as much in the mainstream as Obama.

No, the Republicans have created a mess for themselves.

#3 Comment By Robert On September 2, 2014 @ 11:02 pm

Sadly it rarely matters what voters want.

If King Jeb chooses to run he will win. And he will do what is in the interests of his family to do, just as his brother did, and that is be a war president.

Obama’s assigned role was to create pots of trouble globally, bring them to a near boil and then put them on the back burner to simmer.

For this Obama will attacked as a weak, vacillating president by the fake right and will be damned with faint praise from the fake left.

Americans will de facto be told that they need a strong leader to bring back the nation’s credibility.

It is all a piece of dreary second rate theater. But for a nation addicted to “reality TV, including the fake news it is right down their alley.

#4 Comment By CaseyL On September 2, 2014 @ 11:03 pm

No, the Republicans have created a mess for themselves.

Romney got 47% of the vote in 2012. Almost half of the country really only cares about tax cuts.

As long as the GOP candidate promises to continue waging war on the federal government, and to never raise taxes, GOP voters won’t much care who else he promises to wage war on.

#5 Comment By balconesfault On September 3, 2014 @ 4:53 am

@CaseyL Romney got 47% of the vote in 2012. Almost half of the country really only cares about tax cuts.

No … you’re ignoring that around 10% of Americans would still not vote for a black for President, about 10-20% are single-issue pro-life voters, and about 20% are single-issue NRA voters.

And while the Ven diagrams for the anti-tax, pro-life, pro-gun, and anti-black no doubt have some overlap, an anti-tax GOP candidate who was perceived to be on the “wrong side” on the issues of abortion or guns would almost certainly go down to a historical defeat.

#6 Comment By BD On September 3, 2014 @ 9:02 am

A good question is how the GOP got this way in the first place–traditionally they were the party that avoided foreign intervention–despite all their anti-communist rhetoric, it was Truman who formed NATO and his doctrine of containment and Korea, Kennedy who beefed up the military and reckless brinksmanship in Cuba and Vietnam, and Republicans who eventually pulled us back. Reagan may have stepped up defense spending, but aside from Grenada didn’t pursue aggressive military action. Why has the experience of Bush Sr. and Jr. so completely transformed such a large part of the Republican electorate into an activist, interventionist bloc?

It’s not as though it meshes with their economic views–the military is after all a very large government program, and theories about how we can use force for good overseas seem to match better with intervening in our economy at home. The GOP would be far more intellectually consistent if they adopted a more restrained foreign approach.

#7 Comment By collin On September 3, 2014 @ 11:18 am

Heaven help with in 2016 as we will have Queen Liberal Hawk Hillary Clinton vs. Modern Crusader (my guess) Tedd Cruz. Heck even Rand Paul conversion to a neocon is happening a lot faster than I expected. And let us not put rose covered glasses about Reagan’s greatest here either. He sent (and withdrew) troops in Lebannon and his 1986 Libya was the archtype example of how to “Bomb” a country without getting sucked in Mission Creep. (Clinton used this method way too much.) I have come to accept that Ronnie’s foreign policy secret weapon was the 1980s the Russians were terrible at it.

Although I wish Obama interfered a lot less and chose better suits, I wish Obama did get more support by limiting military affairs.

#8 Comment By balconesfault On September 3, 2014 @ 11:18 am

On cue, from Rand Paul:

“If I were President, I would call a joint session of Congress. I would lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily.”

[4]

#9 Comment By ElteCommInc. On September 3, 2014 @ 12:23 pm

“37% of Republicans still think the U.S. is doing too much, so there is a significant bloc among Republicans that hasn’t been swayed by the current wave of panic and demagoguery.”

Fear mongering opportunity still works.
_____________________________________________”Why has the experience of Bush Sr. and Jr. so completely transformed such a large part of the Republican electorate into an activist, interventionist bloc?”

I think there are two undercurrents. 1. The understanding that democracy actually works. And if that is the case then active democracy should be promoted. I subscribed to this ethic. That once a public became exposed to mass economic opportunity democratic reforms would flow naturally — as the ideal means to open society — economic opportunity/participation exposure was key. What would follow is inevitable reform from the inside.

2. A growing number of thinkers in places of power adopted an ethic that the use of force to remove nondemocratic structures would yield the same result.

They engaged in rhetoric in which they blended the desire for democracy or increased self determination movements with a desire for military or forceful overthrow. The problem as we are now witnessing that military overthrow of regimes that pose no real threat to other states or regions has yielded little in the spread of democracy. The ideal of the Century for the New American Way – got seriously hijacked by elitist capitalist with the money to make the case for use of force. It is a horrible mistake. That demands fear as the motivator – 9/11 became the convenient vehicle to export that fear.

#10 Comment By ElteCommInc. On September 3, 2014 @ 12:40 pm

As for Sen. Paul,

for me the case for him collapsed with the advance of:

1. easing drug laws to address discrimination

2. the bi-polar position on Iraq and Afghanistan and,

3. his advance that Israel be given a carte blanche’ pass on anything they choose to do.

Positions that either don’t address the problem he suggests or create such logical conundrum they move foreign policy nowhere o deeper into a morass of force and destabilization burdening the US with correcting the matter they created using the same methods that created the problem.

#11 Comment By steve in ohio On September 3, 2014 @ 1:01 pm

Immigration reform (real reform, not amnesty) will be the big issue in 2016. Unfortunately, Rand Paul, the only one with decent FP views, has been all over the place on immigration. I’m thinking more and more it will be Cruz. The country’s only hope is that once he’s in–like Reagan who was also a tough talker–he will pursue peace.

#12 Comment By EliteCommInc. On September 3, 2014 @ 3:51 pm

“Immigration reform (real reform, not amnesty) will be the big issue in 2016.”

In the immortal words of from the “Amityville Horror,” only reform is required. If you are not here legally . . .

“Get Out!”

The issue for this group of politicians is that they are the Vietnam era rapscallions. Pres. Reagan’s tough talk was mooted by having lived through WWII and what it cost.

I am not a non-interventionist. But there had better be cause beyond some think tank analysis and existential fear mantra.

Just a note: an existential threat cannot be defeated by weapons — it is ideological, unless one intends on shedding a lot of blood to:

1. change their minds as to their ideology or

2. kill or maim enough such that they are incapable of influencing a conversion to their view — well, let’s just say,

It took a handful of colonials to breed an insurrection in the colonies via the written and spoken word — ahh, the power of speech.

#13 Comment By Barry On September 3, 2014 @ 7:41 pm

BD: “A good question is how the GOP got this way in the first place–traditionally they were the party that avoided foreign intervention–”

There was a major party realignment and shift over the period 1948 – 1980.

#14 Comment By Barry On September 3, 2014 @ 7:44 pm

ElteCommInc., I think that it was more the collapse of the Soviet Union, followed by the Gulf War. At this point, the people running the USA saw the ability of the USA to expand its empire quite a bit. Then, after 9/11, those same people saw an incredible opening (including the ability to politically withstand a lot of casualties in ground war overseas), and ran it.

The only real question is why did they do it so badly?