Noted international relations expert Walter Russell Mead takes a peek at the Tea Party’s implications fore foreign policy in a recent Foreign Affairs article. He says the Tea Party reminds him of the Jacksonian Democrats in the mid 1800s. The Jacksonians were a group of populists who argued against the “elites” of their time, the wealthy Northern businessmen. Certainly they supported more government intervention to help them than the Tea Party, which advocates for less government. One other aspect that is interesting about these two groups is how each is not a united faction.
The Tea Party formed from Ron Paul Libertarians and the Sarah Palin social conservatives, but still Libertarian leaning. On some issues they agree, but on foreign policy they are not necessarily on the same page. The Palin group still supports George W. Bush’s foreign policy agenda, the “Freedom Agenda,” and Ron Paul’s group wants to yank foreign aid to become more isolationists.
More importantly, during the midterm elections, you did not hear much about foreign policy. Why? First, the economy was in bad shape. Second, Obama’s healthcare plan gave people cause for concern. Finally, and I think most critically, Obama has not been much of a foreign policy president. He has drawn down in Iraq (which most Americans supported), signed a modest START Treaty, and pursued more multilateral diplomacy. Some are calling for “American exceptionalism” unilateral foreign policy. Others are just staying out of it.
That is why the conservative movement has hardly said a word on the Middle East crisis. The Neoconservatives are all tied up in knots, and are not all that popular in the Republican Party after 8 years of Bush, and populist Tea Party has a policy to stay out of conflicts and solve domestic problems, making for a mute response to the biggest foreign policy conundrum of Obama’s presidency. Unless the Republicans find a way to get out of this funk to present some united front, their message for the 2012 elections will be mixed and weak.
That does not put the Democrats off the hook. If Obama slips up, then Republicans have a shot. If they find their own Bill Clinton, quite unlikely, to unseat the Democrats George H.W. Bush, who also had a foreign policy victory with the fall of the USSR and the Gulf War, then the Republicans still have a shot. But right now, Republicans are lost in the woods without a cohesive argument, response, or even foreign policy platform. Even worse, their compass might be broken.
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