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Republican Foreign Policy in Name Only

Chuck Hagel

My latest for The Atlantic, “No Longer the ‘Party of Eisenhower and Reagan’” argues that Republican opposition to defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel reveals just how far the party’s thinking has drifted on foreign policy. The kicker:

Lindsey Graham notwithstanding, Hagel’s views on most foreign policy issues of the day are well in the mainstream of the professional foreign policy establishment. It’s why so many legends of the business — Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, Zbigniew Brzesinski, Robert Gates, Jim Jones, and so many more — have lauded his nomination.

Problematically, while Scowcroft, Powell, and Eisenhower are admired by professionals in their field, their party’s leadership views them as Republicans in Name Only — if not outright apostates. It’s a status they share with Richard Lugar, George H.W. Bush, Jon Huntsman, and, yes, Chuck Hagel.

Either the Republican Party has to re-embrace its traditional foreign policy agenda, or those of us who have been left on the outside looking in will have to conclude that it’s no longer our party.

While the transition has been remarkably fast, today’s Republican Party is simply not the party of Dwight Eisenhower or even Ronald Reagan. Scowcroft advised Presidents Nixon, Ford and George H.W. Bush. Hagel and Huntsman both served in the Reagan administration. But, just as the Tea Party is now the de facto domestic policy face of the GOP, the neocons are its foreign policy face.

Unless there’s a course correction and soon, those of us who describe ourselves as “Eisenhower Republicans,” “Chuck Hagel Republicans,” or “Jon Huntsman Republicans” will have to face up to the fact that the modifier negates the noun.

More at the link.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Tyrell says:

    Whatever happened to pragmatism ? Reagan was good at it, but the master was Richard Nixon.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  2. Stonetools says:

    Unless there’s a course correction and soon, those of us who describe ourselves as “Eisenhower Republicans,” “Chuck Hagel Republicans,” or “Jon Huntsman Republicans” will have to face up to the fact that the modifier negates the noun.

    Or you could just describe yourself as ” moderate Democrat”. How about that?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 26 Thumb down 1

  3. Mark Ivey says:

    It´s no longer my party…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  4. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Good straw men bait and switch. Ike. Reagan. Surprised Lincoln wasn’t included.

    The numbingly obvious points — although ironically not at all obvious in media-academe circles — are that things have changed since the Cold War and Muslim state sponsors of global terrorism such as Iran are not like Soviets.

    There won’t be a formal announcement of war, then an epic tank battle for the Fulda Gap, and then eventually a stilted ceremony with peace documents and dignitaries in expensive suits. Moving down the chain al Qaeda is not a proper army that fights by the proper rules of proper warfare. 9/11 wasn’t like Pearl Harbor and the Twin Towers were not like the USS Arizona. What might have made sense in the 1950′s doesn’t make sense in the post-9/11 universe. What worked with rational actors faced with MAD won’t necessarily work with religious extremists who yearn for their tickets to paradise. Come on, man, clue in.

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  5. Jim Henley says:

    Unless there’s a course correction and soon, those of us who describe ourselves as “Eisenhower Republicans,” “Chuck Hagel Republicans,” or “Jon Huntsman Republicans” will have to face up to the fact that the modifier negates the noun.

    James, you are in a serious situation. You are inside the gravity well of a black hole, suffering considerable time-dilation already relative to those outside it. That’s why everything seems to be moving so slowly for you. You’ve got to pull your ship out before you hit the singularity, man!

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 1

  6. Jim Henley says:

    Yeah, I suspect I got the frames of reference backwards there, in terms of the science. But I couldn’t resist.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  7. ptfe says:

    @Jim Henley: Yep, got those observers backwards — the outside observer sees the person hang at the event horizon forever, while the person traversing it crosses almost instantaneously. But it’s pretty easy to fix the above to work:

    James, you’re in a serious situation! You are inside the gravity well of a black hole and are watching the Republican Party fall through the event horizon. They’ve already hit the singularity, but you’re only seeing them move very slowly. You’ve got to pull your ship out before you hit the singularity, man!

    (FT[science]FY)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  8. michael reynolds says:

    A good piece, James, but sometimes I wonder if “Conservative” doesn’t just mean, “Slow to catch on.” Despite the mess they’ve made, the Neocons still dominate your party. Just as the Tea Party does on domestic policy.

    There is no longer a Republican Party the way you think of it.

    It’s dead, Jim.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 31 Thumb down 2

  9. Rafer Janders says:

    Unless there’s a course correction and soon, those of us who describe ourselves as “Eisenhower Republicans,” “Chuck Hagel Republicans,” or “Jon Huntsman Republicans” will have to face up to the fact that the modifier negates the noun.

    You know, James, this sort of reinforces my belief that you have an almost emotional and psychological attachment to thinking of yourself as a “Republican” in a way that doesn’t correspond to any of the actual values and beliefs of the actual Republican Party. Are you a Republican because you believe in what Republicans believe in? No. You’re a Republican because you identifed as a Republican back in the 1980s — or, maybe even more accurately, identified as Not A Democrat — and have been unable to move with the times.

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  10. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    There is no longer a Republican Party the way you think of it.

    There never really was.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  11. James Joyner says:

    @Jim Henley: @michael reynolds: The problem is that the neocons didn’t take control of the Republican establishment until 2002-2003 or so and that there was still a very strong Realist and non-interventionist strain well after that. It still exists within the tent. But the leadership and a huge chunk of the base has become Coulterized. A combination of the permanent campaign, the Fox News bubble, and some other factors.

    I’m pretty sure, for example, that Mitt Romney’s not a neocon. But he felt he had to pander to them to get nominated and even get their turnout in November.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 16

  12. Rafer Janders says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I think James suffers from a modified version of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. Intellectually he recognizes that the GOP is composed of fools, grifters and psychopaths, yes, but “No True Republican” would act as they do, so to him they don’t really represent the party, despite them making up over 90% of its prominent members.

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  13. Rafer Janders says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m pretty sure, for example, that Mitt Romney’s not a neocon.

    Pretty sure based on what? His actions and his words? Those indicated he was a neocon. Sure, he might have been lying. But myself, I don’t have some secret portal into the inmost depths of Romney’s psychology, so for me I thought it was a pretty good idea to take him at his word.

    But he felt he had to pander to them to get nominated and even get their turnout in November.

    And would have continued to pander to them had he been elected. Even if he wasn’t a neocon in his innermost heart of hearts, where his most secretest dreams and desires lived, he would have done exactly as they wanted him to. So…where’s the real difference? A war on Iran started by either a true-believing neocon or a puppet of the neocons is still a war on Iran.

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  14. Dave Schuler says:

    I was preparing to write a post here titled “Confirm Hagel”. You’ve covered most of the territory I would have.

    Cabinet officers are there to carry out the directives of the president. Presidents deserve to have the cabinet officers they think will be best able to carry out those duties and IMO as a general principle Congress should defer to the president on these appointments.

    I think that Brennan is much more troubling but even there I’d use the same principle: is he the right person for carrying out the president’s directives? I think he is and, therefore, IMO he should be confirmed, too. Heads of executive department appointments is no place to re-argue elections.

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  15. wr says:

    @James Joyner: “I’m pretty sure, for example, that Mitt Romney’s not a neocon. But he felt he had to pander to them to get nominated and even get their turnout in November. ”

    What does it mean to say that Romney isn’t a neocon? That he doesn’t share these beliefs in his heart? What possible difference could that make? He ran as a neocon, spouting neocon talking points. He surrounded himself with neocon foreign affairs people. If elected, should we believe that he wouldn’t have governed as a neocon? Why? Because you want him to be something else?

    If a man panders to one interest group all through a campaign, what are the odds that he’ll stop once elected?

    And if once elected he chose to attack Iran, as long as he really didn’t believe in it, would you still say he isn’t a neocon?

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  16. Herb says:

    Unless there’s a course correction and soon, those of us who describe ourselves as “Eisenhower Republicans,” “Chuck Hagel Republicans,” or “Jon Huntsman Republicans” will have to face up to the fact that the modifier negates the noun.

    My first thought was “Wow, that’s bold.”

    Second thought is…..it shouldn’t be. It should be CW.

    Make it so, number one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  17. mattb says:

    @James Joyner:
    First, this is another great article.

    That said I have to take you to task on this comment:

    I’m pretty sure, for example, that Mitt Romney’s not a neocon. But he felt he had to pander to them to get nominated and even get their turnout in November.

    I’m having a real hard time resolving this sentence with what you wrote only a few lines above…

    The problem is that the neocons didn’t take control of the Republican establishment until 2002-2003….

    The neocon rise to power took place under a president who, while not a neocon himself, was surrounded by a number of neocon advisers. Romney seemed to be setting up a similar dynamic — though Ryan was no Cheney. And given the current tenor of the Republican party, what are the chances that whoever the candidate is in 2016, they will repeat this pattern (especially given that questioning the wisdom of Iraq is still largely verboten within the party).

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  18. C. Clavin says:

    “…It still exists within the tent…”

    Sure it does…but it’s totally ineffective. It’s not just foreign policy either. Frum, Sullivan, Bartlett. (Be careful with Romney…he is whatever you want him to be.)
    There are many things about the Conservative movement that appeal to me.
    But the Republican party is the party of Tsar, and JKB, and Indiana Jones, and Florack.
    Democrats are the Conservatives now. Obama may be more Conservative than Reagan. Certainly the most Conservative President since Reagan. Get used to it.

    Conservative Ronald Reagan:
    Gave amnesty to illegals
    Negotiated with terrorists…traded arms for hostages
    Lowered Taxes…then raised them 4 times
    Exploded the size of Government
    Negotiated with the the Soviets without pre-conditions
    “Cut and Run” from Lebanon

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  19. gVOR08 says:

    @James Joyner: @Rafer Janders:

    I’m pretty sure, for example, that Mitt Romney’s not a neocon.

    I’m pretty sure, for example, that it never mattered what Romney was. Rafer’s right, the party and the advisers would have driven policy.
    And before you could convince me Romney was, deep in his secret heart, Realist and non-interventionist, you’d have to convince me he knew or cared enough about foreign policy to be anything. That was the really scarey part. Have you considered that maybe the real reason he skated through the foreign policy debate just agreeing with everything is that without notes or a teleprompter, he had nothing to say on the subject.

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  20. gVOR08 says:

    James said,

    …those of us who have been left on the outside looking in will have to conclude that it’s no longer our party.

    Tease.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  21. Scott says:

    Either the Republican Party has to re-embrace its traditional foreign policy agenda, or those of us who have been left on the outside looking in will have to conclude that it’s no longer our party.

    That’s about where I am. Over the last ten years, I am astonished on how folks (like Cheney, Bolten, Bush, Rumsfeld, etc.) have managed not to be considered by the nation to be totally discredited. I am shocked that they still have a voice and that people still listen. I guess I am still naive on how public opinion and propaganda is used in this country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  22. Ben Wolf says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    What might have made sense in the 1950′s doesn’t make sense in the post-9/11 universe. What worked with rational actors faced with MAD won’t necessarily work with religious extremists who yearn for their tickets to paradise.

    Above is the quintessential expression of the neo-conservative mindset: Crisis is a permanent state of being. Mortal danger lurks around every corner. The only defense is perpetual offense against both enemies identified and those we cannot see, an endless drive to remake the world in America’s image under American dominance.

    In the neo-conservative mind war is the preferred solution to any problem. Whether or not the deployment of military might actually achieves the stated objectives seems almost an insignificant footnote; to those who have appointed themselves as the guardians of American “universal” values there can be no questioning of either the method or the means. The body counts and the consequences always seem to be someone else’s problem.

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  23. anjin-san says:

    you’d have to convince me he knew or cared enough about foreign policy to be anything.

    Well, we are talking about a man who was quite certain he was going to win right up until they told him he lost. And they he was in doubt for an hour due to Rove’s rant, which rational people dismissed after 90 seconds. You would have to convince me that he knows enough about pretty much anything…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  24. superdestroyer says:

    The discussion on Hagel should be about defense policy and not foreign policy. Who knows how Hagel a downsizing military, eliminating missions from the Defense Department portfolio, changes in manpower, or closing bases.

    There are many questions to ask Mr. Hagel and foreign policy is near the bottom. However, it seems that the conventional wisdon is to treat the nomination as if it for the State Department instead of the Defense Department.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  25. Woody says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    I assume you folks have traveled to the Atlantic article – if not, go, it’s worth it.

    This comment reminded me of a schtick one of our local sports radio jocks once used – “stupid, crazy, or jerk” doesn’t really make any difference when someone totals your car. Based on Romney’s willingness to abase himself to various GOP subgroups (combined with his pattern of anti-empathy for those who could not enrich him in some way), I firmly believe we’d be reading about the media build-up for our next military adventure right about now.

    Neocon = GOP foreign policy platforms : : Teaparty = GOP economic policy platforms : : extremist Christianists = GOP social policy platforms.

    ‘Tis broken, and will not repair from without.

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  26. cd6 says:

    But, just as the Tea Party is now the de facto domestic policy face of the GOP, the neocons are its foreign policy face.

    Was there like a server error when this got posted? I missed the part where James must have stated “… but I voted for these guys anyway”

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  27. carpeicthus says:

    How could you in any way assume that Romney isn’t a neocon? His de facto foreign policy director was Netanyahu.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 1

  28. john personna says:

    @carpeicthus:

    I think it is about Israel, and it is an example of how a political tactic (“hit Dems on support for Israel”) can become a strategic policy.

    Never mind all the sensible things you can say about Hagel, if he can’t say the safety of Israel is of tantamount importance to the safety of America itself, he’s boxed out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  29. Herb says:

    I’m not sure if Mitt Romney was a neocon, but I’m absolutely sure he’s totally and completely irrelevant.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  30. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Let me guess. It rained on your wedding day. You once got a free ride after you had already paid. You’ve ten thousand spoons, but you really need a knife.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  31. SoWhat says:

    Well whoop-de-freakin-do, Democrats are no longer the party of JFK and his policies on tax cuts and muscular foreign policy.

    Scoop Jackson ain’t cheerin’ the current Democrat Party either.

    Gaia forbid a political party should move on from the l950-1960s—the horror!

    If you’re pining for the fjords and the days of Ike and JFK, maybe you should be a historian.

    Those who think of themselves as Eisenhower, Hagel or Huntsman Republicans should amend their thinking to brand themselves Perot Republicans. You’ll be a spoiler but you’ll never win—just as JFK Democrats couldn’t win in the 21st century.

    Get real.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  32. george says:

    I don’t think Romney is a neocon, or anything else – his views shifted far too frequently to be tied down to a single philosophy. In fact, I suspect he’d have happily run as a Democrat, and implemented Democratic party policies, if it would have got him the Presidency.

    In terms of the bigger picture, this isn’t the first time a party has self-destructed. Happens every century or so all over the world. A new conservative party will arise, hopefully something closer to say Merkel’s conservatives in Germany (ie rational) than to the current GOP.

    In most of the world, conservative doesn’t mean bat sht crazy. That’s a GOP invention.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  33. Ron Beasley says:

    This is another case of the Republican’s FOX news problem. Rupert Murdoch and FOX have become the tail that wags the dog. Bolton, Krauthammer, Kristol appear daily as “experts.” Never any mention of the disasters they supported during the Bush administration and never a Republican realist to be seen. The politicians know that FOX is where the base gets all of their “information” so that can’t go against FOX.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  34. michael reynolds says:

    Who know what Mitt Romney was. He was a void wrapped up in magic long johns.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  35. swbarnes2 says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    You know, James, this sort of reinforces my belief that you have an almost emotional and psychological attachment to thinking of yourself as a “Republican” in a way that doesn’t correspond to any of the actual values and beliefs of the actual Republican Party.

    Sadly, I do not think this is the case. The actual values and beliefs of the Republican party are straight white prosperous males are better than everyone else. I don’t think James or Doug will vote for Democrats, because Democrats don’t make that the cornerstone of their policies.

    As evidence, Romney did not get a majority of female voters. But James insisted that this was not a problem with women, because Romney got the majority of white women. Like non-white women are only technically women, and shouldn’t really be counted.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2

  36. aFloridian says:

    @george:

    In most of the world, conservative doesn’t mean bat sht crazy.

    Best line in the thread.

    I am a registered Republican but definitely feeling the identity crisis myself. I have long considered myself more of a moderate or centrist than a rapid Republican, but there are still a few issues that I disagree with the Democrats so strongly on that I’m not sure I could ever switch parties. The religious extremist and neoconservative elements of the party, in particular, definitely leave me feeling alienated.

    Pretty much straight out of the gate this election I started making peace with a vote for Obama, as I knew there was zero chance I’d vote for Romney or any of the others, except Paul or Huntsman.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  37. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    And given the current tenor of the Republican party, what are the chances that whoever the candidate is in 2016, they will repeat this pattern

    Pretty much nil. The republican party has for decades drawn all of their identity from essentially domestic and largely social questions (guns, abortions, evolution et. al.). Any leader rining under those conditions is pretty much certain to be at best indifferent to international policy issues.

    That in turn, given the limited range of topics that a leader can prioritize high at any given time will mean that the foreign policy desk will almost always be run by some staffer who will be able to act pretty much at will as long as they can a) make it sound reasonable to the layman and b) tie it to some red meat for the base. Thus Cheney and the whole a strong America/never surrender shtick.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  38. swbarnes2 says:

    The premise of this argument is very strange to me.

    If one had to pick the Platonically Republican foreign policy, wouldn’t that be Reagan selling arms to one set of killers to give the money to another set of killers?

    Is this a foreign policy that James wants the country to return to?

    But anyway, using “Republican foreign policy” in that way is dishonest equivocation. Republican foreign policy empirically has to be what today’s Republicans advocate. If you are saying that today’s Republican FP doesn’t match some imaginary Platonic real true
    “Republican” foreign policy, then its you who is deluded, not the actual professional elected Republicans.

    I’m pretty sure, for example, that Mitt Romney’s not a neocon.

    Hooray for all the other posters who pointed out that James is utterly wrong to judge Mitt Romney’s FP policies by what he, James, personally believes must be in Romney’s heart. Conservatives like James are never going to give up the tacit argument that the feelings of white guys are more important than the facts on the ground, so its important that everyone be in the habit of calling that argument out and smacking it around publicly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  39. James Joyner says:

    @swbarnes2: You’re making the same argument that I’m making. Namely: The Republican foreign policy is, ultimately, the foreign policy of the Republican leadership and the most vocal elements of its base. The fact that Hagel, Scowcroft, Huntsman, Powell, Lugar and others call ourselves Republicans doesn’t change that.

    My related argument is that the current brand of Republican foreign policy is still very, very new. The question is whether the Old Guard can seize it back and soon. If not, then we’ve got to admit that it’s no longer our party. Whether that means we’re Democrats, Independents, or something else remains to be seen.

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  40. mattb says:

    @James Joyner:

    My related argument is that the current brand of Republican foreign policy [neoconservatism] is still very, very new. The question is whether the Old Guard can seize it back and soon.

    Unfortunately, as you note, it’s now over a decade old. Granted, that’s new if we’re speaking relatively.

    The problem is that all of the names you’ve mentioned as Foreign Policy moderates — Hagel, Scowcroft, Huntsman, Powell, Brzesinski, Gates, Jones, H. W. Bush and Lugar — are (with the possible exception of Huntsman) at or nearing the end of their careers.

    Who on the horizon, is there to replace them? What moderates or FP paleocons are currently in office?

    And given the tenor of the Republican primaries, is the party interested in a candidate who isn’t a neocon (or willing to get into bed with neocons) on foreign policy?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  41. James Joyner says:

    @mattb: Again, I think we’re in agreement. I only hedge at all out of both longstanding tribal loyalty and the presence of at least some countervailing evidence. As recently as the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush easily won the Republican primaries with the sort of foreign policy I’m advocating front and center. And there’s also Larison and the gang at The American Conservative, which represents a significant faction within the party. The problem, as you point out, is that there’s no evidence that these people are in the ascendancy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  42. mattb says:

    @James Joyner:
    I agree we’re largely in agreement, and I understand the point you are making about loyalty. What I’m less convinced of is the evidence (though I am a BIG fan of Larison and most of the bloggers at TAC).

    But the stumbling block I keep hitting is this:

    As recently as the 2000 campaign, George W. Bush easily won the Republican primaries with the sort of foreign policy I’m advocating front and center.

    The issue I have with this statement is that while W. might have been advocating a moderate foreign policy, it’s also the case that he was being surrounded by neocon advisers. And this is a clear example of how the articulated positions of the President are far less important than those of the people he surrounds himself with.

    Perhaps things would have been different if he had not chosen Cheney as a running mate. Or if 9/11 hadn’t happened. The fact remains that once 9/11 happened, the W. Administration neocons clearly followed Rom Emmaunal’s edict to “never let a serious crisis go to waste.” We as a nation are still coming to terms with the net result.

    The problem, as you correctly point out, is that the Coulterized (love the term) Republican party/base, doesn’t want to admit even the potential that the Neocon strategy is wrong. And what’s potentially more dangerous is that the continued loss of the Presidency to an “other” seems to push them further and further into a muscular neoconservatism. And, as long as that muscular neconservatism sells to the punters, no one (beyond TAC and a few other fringe voices) is interested in trying to sell anything else.

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  43. mattb says:

    Ugg… that should have been Rahm Emanuel. Though if there isn’t a twitter account for Rom Emmaunal: SpaceKnight, there should be.

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  44. Rob in CT says:

    I can understand thinking that the NeoCon takeover wasn’t all that long ago and, therefore, that it could be reversed.

    I dunno, though. “The base” seems to like chest-thumping a whole lot. It would be nice if the Tea Party did something useful for a change and became a force for a humbler (and thus less expensive) FP, but I’m not exactly holding my breath.

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