In a move that triggered eye-rolls across the country, New York Rep. Peter King recently announced that he’s mulling a run for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Without a major fan base outside of his district or political gifts that outshine most of his fellow congressmen, it’s clear his campaign would go nowhere, and it’s tempting to dismiss this as a vanity run. But the motivations he explained to ABC News speak to a larger issue that does warrant our attention:
“The big debate that Republicans seem to have in the Senate on foreign policy is whether or not, you know, the CIA was going to use a drone to kill an American in Starbucks. To me, we should be going beyond that and we should go back to being a party – whether it’s Eisenhower, Reagan, Bush – of having a strong national defense, and that should be, to me, an essential part of the presidential debate. And so far, that’s missing […]
“[Running] does give me, at the very least, a forum to get my views out there on the direction I think the Republican Party should be following on foreign policy and not just back ourselves into an isolationist corner, and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Now, Peter King is one of the last people we should want as the top public face for any sort of campaign to reassert any of conservatism’s neglected facets. When his fellow Republicans tried to slow down the rush to pass bills regarding hurricane relief for New York and medical care to 9/11 first responders so pork and other flaws could be removed before passage, King demonized them as heartless partisans. In 1996, he sneered that the House of Representatives under Newt Gingrich’s leadership sported “a Southern, anti-union attitude that appeals to the mentality of hillbillies at revival meetings.” And his own pet cause, counterterrorism, would suffer a mortal blow about five minutes after someone first brought up his past apologetics for the Irish Republican Army.
That said, he’s not wrong about the need for someone to stick up for the Right’s hawkish side. Partly because the Bush Administration so badly mishandled postwar Iraq & Afghanistan, partly because of rising suspicion of the federal government in general, and partly because Barack Obama is now the one giving orders as commander-in-chief, much of the GOP seems unwilling to be too strongly associated with a bold, proactive foreign policy.
Yes, Republicans hammered Obama for so utterly failing to protect our embassy in Benghazi. And there are genuine constitutional and privacy fears swirling around the National Security Agency’s data-mining activities. But at the same time, Republicans did almost nothing to stop the nominations of John Kerry and John Brennan. The most popular GOP publicity stunt of recent memory, #StandWithRand, was based on the absurd premise that a Justice Department memo specifically discussing the use of force against “senior operational leader[s] of al-Qa’ida or an associated force of al-Qa’ida” was just a stone’s throw away from everyday Americans pleading, in Rand Paul’s words, “I was at a tea party meeting and I was critical of the President, but I’m not a revolutionary. Please don’t kill me.”
And when was the last time you heard a Republican speak at any real length on Afghanistan or Iraq? The bloody sacrifices of our soldiers over the past decade teeter precariously on the verge of being wasted because of the lack of clear political vision as to our objectives. The Taliban reclaiming Afghanistan once US forces leave remains a very real possibility. Der Spiegel recently reported that a hundred Afghan diplomats have chosen to defect to the countries they were stationed in rather than return home. Over a thousand Iraqis were killed in May alone, and former Iraqi Member of Parliament Mithal Al-Alusi has told the Times of Israel, “Obama has handed Iraq over to Iran and said ‘do what you like.’”
Obama can’t wait to ditch the globe’s dangers and pretend the War on Terror is over, and judging by their silence, a lot of Republicans agree with him.
So while Peter King isn’t the man for the job, we do desperately need someone who can prevent the GOP from sliding into isolationism and reunite limited government with strong national defense. But who?
Ted Cruz still shows promise as the full-spectrum conservative to beat. Former Ambassador John Bolton almost ran in 2012 with the same goal in mind, though he probably lacks the charisma and skill in retail politics to actually win. Rick Santorum is excellent on defense issues, but it remains to be seen whether he’s learned from the mistakes that doomed his last campaign. Col. Allen West would be a powerful voice for America’s national interests, but he has a 2012 defeat to overcome as well.
In short: while their presidential prospects are shaky, hawks have plenty of potential champions. And if the goal is not to get elected, but just to ensure that their views are represented and influence the rest of the field, then any of the above would more than suffice. So perhaps “vanity run” was the right assessment for Peter King’s plans the first time.