Home/Daniel Larison/The Lament of So-Called ‘Internationalists’

The Lament of So-Called ‘Internationalists’

Bret Stephens complains that the current Republican Party is largely unrecognizable to him and wonders how that happened. The column is noteworthy for what it doesn’t talk about, namely the major failures of the old GOP whose disappearance he mourns. Some of this is just the usual obliviousness that we can expect from pro-immigration warmongers in the GOP, who can’t quite grasp that their preferred policies have not only been bad for the country but increasingly unpopular with the people they have sold these policies to for decades. If the GOP left Stephens, that is because much of the rest of the party naturally recoiled from the failed policies that Stephens and others with the same views promoted. It’s unfortunate that they went to Trump because Trump is a lousy candidate who can’t be trusted, but then Trump was the only one offering anything resembling alternative to the junk policies the other candidates were promising to continue.

If Republican voters don’t share the Reagan-Bush consensus on immigration from a generation ago, that is due in large part to the ’86 amnesty and the mass immigration that happened over the last thirty years. Trade agreements have never been terribly popular because their benefits are spread out and harder to see and their costs are concentrated and more visible, and dissatisfaction with them tends to increase during times of relatively greater scarcity and economic hardship. It would be strange if the relatively more nationalist party didn’t become more, well, nationalist in its views of trade in the wake of one of the biggest recessions in modern history. Unlike WSJ columnists, most Republicans are not ideologically wedded to the belief that any and every free trade agreement is good for the country, and they don’t respond well to candidates that insist on reciting from that same tired hymnal. If you don’t want voters to sour on trade agreements, they need to believe that the economy is working and will continue working for them and their children, but a party in hock to corporations can’t even talk about that.

If more Republicans are souring on “internationalism” in foreign policy, that’s the least surprising development of all. The internationalists have given us perpetual war, the Iraq debacle, and a laundry list of obligations around the world that seem to be (and usually are) detached from the security and well-being of the United States. Republicans are less interested in that sort of “internationalism” because it is expensive, mindless, and increasingly taking priority over addressing domestic concerns. The so-called internationalists can’t shut up about all the places they think the U.S. should meddle in and all the wars that their sons (or the sons of their neighbors) should go fight indefinitely for amorphous goals that seem to have no relation to securing America or American interests, and then they wonder why people are rejecting them? The only surprising thing is that it has taken this long for the GOP’s failures to come back to bite them.

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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