The GOP Can't Win as a Party of War in 2014

Yet that's the direction uber-hawk John Bolton's PAC is pushing Republicans.

A group of hawks is called a cast, an aerie, a kettle—or, if John Bolton gets his way, the 114th United States Congress. The one-time U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has set up a PAC and a super PAC to help hawks in the 2014 midterms, and is insistent that foreign policy should be prominent in American politics. For a man dedicated to that subject, however, he has a curious blind spot. 

Here's an exchange the mustachioed raptor-enthusiast had on Hugh Hewitt's radio show:

HH: Yesterday on this program, and people can read the transcript if they want at, and we posted the audio as well of Dr. Charles Krauthammer, hour-long interview like this one. He said that look, national security, foreign policy, just doesn’t really matter in presidential elections. How do you respond to that?

JB: Well, I think it has been invisible in the past couple of presidential elections. I think that’s correct. But I think it would be wrong to say it doesn’t matter, that it shouldn’t matter, and that it couldn’t matter. The fact is we now face threats around the world that are growing, some are great strategic threats, some are more immediate, but I think these threats have a direct impact on the economic well-being of the American people. I think the American people are very practical. And if they have leaders who address these issues, I think they will respond to them. I think foreign and defense policy are really surrogates for leadership. I think the people look at how our candidates address national security issues, and they say yes or no, yes, that person is qualified to sit behind the big desk at the White House. So leaving them behind is bad policy for the country. I think it’s bad politics, too.

Even accounting for Ron Paul's monologues in the primary, Mitt Romney's attempted Benghazi zings, and President Obama's crowing over killing Osama bin Laden, it's fair to say that foreign policy was relatively irrelevant during the 2012 election. 

But the 2008 election? 

Hillary Clinton probably would have won the Democratic primary if not for the fact that she supported the Iraq War while her rival opposed it. Then the general election pitted a war-hero Iraq hawk against an anti-war Democrat. What hawks can't seem to internalize is that Barack Obama didn't beat John McCain because foreign policy wasn't an issue. He beat him, in part, because foreign policy was a winning issue for Obama

Or perhaps it's more accurate to say that it was a losing issue for the Republican Party. Voters no longer trusted GOP stewardship of U.S. foreign policy because of the Iraq debacle. It wasn't so much that the GOP lost the rhetorical debate about Iraq as that they lost thousands of U.S. lives, trillions of dollars, and the war itself. Insofar as Republicans embrace John Bolton's brand of abrasive, unreformed hawkery, voters won't trust them to be foreign-policy stewards in the future, either.  

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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