Home/Daniel Larison/What Do Anti-Surge Republicans Have In Common? The Need To Get Elected

What Do Anti-Surge Republicans Have In Common? The Need To Get Elected

A number of Republican senators expressed deep reservations about the president’s proposals Wednesday.

“I want real evidence that a potential surge in troops will do more good than harm and will not exacerbate the existing violence in Iraq,” said Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), who was invited to the White House to discuss the plan. “I am skeptical.”

Other GOP dissenters include Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Gordon H. Smith of Oregon and Sam Brownback of Kansas, a presidential candidate who once staunchly supported Bush’s foreign policy. ~The Los Angeles Times

Notice a certain overlap between the critics of the “surge” and another list of Republican Senators?  After all, which Republican Senate seats are up in 2008?  Well, to name a few, there’s Smith’s in Oregon, Coleman’s in Minnesota, Hagel’s in Nebraska and also Collins’ seat in Maine.  Hagel may be retiring and might embark on a presidential run, but if he doesn’t he will be up for re-election.  Only Voinovich is speaking against the “surge” without having to face an election in ’08, but he is also from a state that just went for the Democrats in a big way in their statewide races.  In other words, most of these dissenters against the “surge” are Republicans coming from blue states, and they know which way the wind is blowing back home.  Hagel has been a long-standing critic of the handling of the war (though we should never forget that he voted for the authorisation resolution just like almost all of the other Republicans in the Senate), so his criticism is probably one of the least driven by electoral concerns. 

I hate to give him credit for much of anything, but Brownback actually stands out among all of these as the most credible as a principled opponent of the move, if only because going against the “surge” (and thus inevitably being portrayed by all of his rivals for the nomination as weak or lacking in support for the war) doesn’t help him at all as a presidential candidate right now.  But it may help him later.  Even though he may think that the 21,500 soldiers would be better used in the Congo or on some other such wild-eyed mission, he has the virtue of being right on this particular question.  When the “surge” fails, as it likely will, he will be in a good position to claim some vindication as one of the few Republicans to oppose the move publicly.  As Ross Douthat notes, he is the only declared GOP candidate for ’08 who has taken this position.  That is worth noting.  However, 2008 GOP primary voters will not be the ones who will want to hear about how he was right to be against the failed “surge.”  What they will take away from this and from his generally unfortunate humanitarian foreign policy antics is that he is not a serious contender, and the conservative media will make sure that Brownback’s name is mud with conservatives because of what they will call his “defeatism.”

Update: Noam Scheiber (via Ross) notes that most self-styled conservatives and most white evangelicals oppose an increase of troops in Iraq (which isn’t really that remarkable when 70% of all Americans oppose this–evangelicals and conservatives are still more likely to support the move than the average American).  He sees Brownback’s move as a way to distinguish himself from the GOP pack and build up support among core constituencies.  This makes a certain amount of sense, except that exactly the kinds of people who don’t want to send more troops to Iraq also don’t want to send them to the Sudan.  Deployments to Sudan and the like are examples of the kind of interventionist do-gooding Brownback prefers.  Brownback’s “let’s do right by the Congo” view of foreign policy priorities will make him something of a joke in the primaries precisely among those voters who are most likely to agree with his position on increased troop levels in Iraq.  Taken together with his embarrassingly pro-immigration views, which will surely alienate him from these same people even more, it will be hard for him to sell his foreign policy views as something other than re-heated liberal internationalism with some Christian icing on top (which is just as unappetising and Wilsonian as it sounds). 

Second Update: Andrew Sullivan views Brownback’s opposition as a “a stunning sign of how the GOP might become a significant opponent of a surge in Iraq…”  But the dissent of an unconventional Republican such as Brownback is a sign of no such thing.  Not only has the conservative commentariat lined up virtually foursquare behind Mr. Bush’s proposal, but no other leading GOP figure has dissented against the idea (unless we are calling Chuck Hagel a “leading GOP figure” now).  The minority leaders in both chambers have mumbled their words of obeisance, and all declared presidential candidates except for Brownback are for it.  Brownback’s position is interesting and also happens to be right, but it is not a harbinger of a GOP backlash.  Wrong again, Sullivan.

Third Update: A commenter responds to Scheiber’s post with the most surreal statement about Sam Brownback I think I have ever read:

No surprises here, none whatsoever. This is little more than creeping Buchananism. Add a little MikeyMoore/Kevin Phillips-style populism and you have the makings of a 21c middle American red-brown movement. Or maybe pink-tan.

Yeah, those sure are the phrases that come to mind when I think of Sam Brownback (“creeping Buchananism” and “red-brown movement”).  Aren’t these the first things that come to your mind? 

By the way, if Brownback really is into “creeping Buchananism” he might want to let the Buchananites in on the secret.  Otherwise they might get the wrong idea from his “save Darfur” and open borders views!

Fourth Update: Look out, theocons!  Quin Hillyer at the Spectator certainly noticed Brownba…sorry, that’s The Perfidious Brownback’s position on the “surge” and he isn’t just annoyed–he’s blood-spitting mad!  What makes him really angry is that Brownback released his statement before Mr. Bush gave his speech–oh, the treachery!  The mainstream conservative demonisation of Brownback the Opportunist/Defeatist has begun with these words:

Sam Brownback did a VERY obnoxious thing today, one which raises serious doubts about his fitness for the presidency. It shows that he does not appreciate the role of commander in chief, and does not appreciate the special responsibility that senators have — especially senators of the president’s own party — not to undercut the commander in chief in time of war.

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

Latest Articles