Home/Daniel Larison/Republican Foreign Policy Reform and the Case of Jon Huntsman

Republican Foreign Policy Reform and the Case of Jon Huntsman

I wanted to follow up on yesterday’s post on Republican foreign policy reform in response to Ross Douthat’s original post. Douthat wrote:

Now none of this is worth doing, obviously, if you don’t share any of the G.O.P. base’s sensitivities and concerns. There’s a version of realism that really doesn’t have a home in the post-Reagan Republican Party — one that tends to put its faith in Davos bromides rather than American sovereignty, that regards Israel as the source of almost every Middle Eastern problem, that’s allergic to the language of American exceptionalism, and that’s basically left-of-center on most non-foreign policy questions and culturally alienated from the religious conservatism that lies at the heart of the G.O.P. coalition.

As I said yesterday, I don’t think there are many adherents to this “version of realism,” since I don’t believe it exists in the real world, but even if it did it isn’t all that relevant to this discussion. There is one well-known Republican realist that doesn’t fit that description at all. He certainly wasn’t a critic of Israel, and he embraced the prevailing rhetoric of American exceptionalism and opposition to “American decline.” He also saw his 2012 presidential campaign go nowhere and has for all intents and purposes been rejected by most Republicans. I’m referring to Jon Huntsman.

Republican rejection of Huntsman wasn’t because of his record on social and cultural issues, which was actually quite conservative and arguably more conservative on social issues than most of the Republican field that year. He wasn’t rejected because of the domestic agenda he proposed during his presidential run, which included economic proposals that satisfied The Wall Street Journal and his early endorsement of Ryan’s budget proposal. On almost every issue, Huntsman was as far to the right (conventionally defined) as his competitors, and sometimes he was to the right of almost all of them. No, he was mostly rejected on account of his non-confrontational style and diplomatic political persona, his support for withdrawing earlier from Afghanistan, and the fact that he was appointed ambassador to China by a Democratic president. If Huntsman had been judged on his record and the substance of what he was proposing to do, presumably many conservatives dissatisfied with the available choices would have rallied behind him. Of course, just the opposite happened. Hawks absurdly dismissed him as being “to the left” of Obama on foreign policy, and despite being the only Republican candidate with meaningful foreign policy experience he was written off because he failed to conform to everything that Republican hard-liners wanted. Huntsman’s experience is a reminder of the overwhelming, built-in opposition inside the party to any advocacy for foreign policy restraint, no matter how mild it may be.

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.

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