Trump the Dove
State of the Union: A Trump ’24 focus on foreign policy restraint is very good news. And we shouldn’t be surprised.
Over at Politico, there’s a noteworthy report on some early jockeying in the 2024 GOP primary:
Those close to Trump’s campaign operation say he plans to try and paint himself as an anti-war dove amongst the hawks. They believe doing so will resonate with GOP voters who are divided on, but growing wary of, continued support for Ukraine in its war with Russia.
This is a smart political move from 45. “Growing wary” of Ukraine support could prove to be an understatement, especially among the base. A January CBS/YouGov poll shows the majority of Republicans now want their member of Congress to oppose further Ukraine funding. And more noticeable is how quickly opinion is shifting: Republicans now prefer urging a peace deal “even if that means Ukraine will lose some territory” over supporting Ukraine “as long as it takes,” 63 to 33 percent. That’s a 17 point swing from November, when 50 percent of Republicans supported the as-long-as-it-takes option.
The Trump campaign’s positioning is also true to form. The Donald has long had an uncanny, instinctive understanding of his base’s priorities. We shouldn’t forget that Trump was the one who finally broke the spell of the Bush dynasty and allowed Republicans to say publicly what they all knew to be true: The Iraq war was an unmitigated disaster. Now, you’d be hard pressed to find any unapologetic defenders of that costly misadventure outside the most committed of the Beltway class.
Of course, Trump’s first term was a mixed bag when it came to foreign policy, but there’s reason to believe his second would be markedly better. Personnel was perhaps the most handicapping aspect of the administration. Now, some of the most hawkish elements from the first Trump White House are either vocally critical of their former boss (Gina Haspel, Jim Mattis) or toying with opposing Trump for the nomination themselves (John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley). We know just how intertwined personality and policy become when it comes to Trump. With hawks lining up against him, that bodes well.
More importantly, the Politico report reemphasizes what has always been true: Trump was the first real disruption to a failed bipartisan foreign policy consensus that wrought terrible consequences around the globe. He remains uniquely capable of challenging the sacred cows to which more conventional political actors are either too ideologically or politically committed to oppose in any real sense beyond lip service.
As my TAC colleague Micah Meadowcroft has noted, some political issues take priority in conditioning others:
The first step in the order of political operations is foreign policy and immigration.... No reformation or renaissance in political life here at home is possible without recognition of this fact. Just as ignoring parentheses in a mathematical calculation will produce a wrong answer, so too have 30 years of American policymakers ignoring borders both here and abroad in pursuit of global liberal empire resulted in harm to American citizens.
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I’d add one caveat to Micah’s political PEMDAS, which is simply that the political order of operations only works within the larger context of shared basic priors about the nature of the human person. No amount of foreign policy restraint or immigration restriction can atone for squishiness on transgender ideology or protecting innocent life. And for now, it seems the Bad Orange Man might have that issue cornered as well:
Trump, who officially announced his 2024 presidential bid in November, added that, if he is reelected, federal agencies will be instructed to immediately cease programs that promote the concept of gender transition “at any age” and promised to prohibit federal tax dollars from being used to help pay for gender-affirming interventions.
There’s a long way to go in the Republican primary, let alone the general election. But if there’s one thing we can be certain of after the past eight years, it’s to never count out The Donald. If he remains in the policy lane that he appears to be courting this early in the primary process, his political resilience could bode very well for the country.