The GOP Is Having An America First Moment

Scott Greer Contributor
Font Size:

On Tuesday night, CNN was gracious enough to once again give Republican presidential candidates with no shot at winning the nomination a debate all to themselves.

And, once again, a certain South Carolina senator who has never surpassed one percent in the polls stole the show.

But this time around, it wasn’t because [crscore]Lindsey Graham[/crscore] “won” the kiddie table debate — it was because he showed how incredibly out of touch he is with his party’s own supporters.

When he was not pontificating on shirtless men riding horses or bringing on the virgins, Senator Graham was fighting back tears as he spoke about just how awful Donald Trump’s proposed moratorium on Muslim immigration is. The reason for the emotional outburst was the war hawk’s concern with how The Donald’s plan will hurt the feelings of hardened Muslim allies like Jordan’s King Abdullah.

Graham was also in a tizzy over the supposed “isolationism” of [crscore]Ted Cruz[/crscore] and [crscore]Rand Paul[/crscore], declaring that their respective foreign policies will leave brutal dictators in power and encourage the spread of ISIS.

He also expressed his deep longing for George W. Bush and begged for the former president to come back.

What was most interesting  about Graham’s arguments was that he really didn’t try to articulate how it will be good for Americans to invade the Middle East again or allow tens of thousands of unvetted Muslims into the country. Instead, he just kept repeating how it will be good for this foreign state or how it make this particular group of non-citizens happy to engage in these policies.

That’s a serious contrast in how the two leading Republicans articulate their respective worldviews. Both Donald Trump and Cruz have argued for a less interventionist foreign policy that leaves the nation building of the Bush doctrine behind.

At the debate, the Texas senator came out against regime change in Syria and declared, “I believe in a America First foreign policy, that far too often President Obama and Hillary Clinton — and, unfortunately, more than a few Republicans — have gotten distracted from the central focus of keeping this country safe.”

Cruz then embarked on a long monologue that tore into the policies Clinton pursued as secretary of state, which led to the toppling of relatively stable governments in Egypt and Libya. Cruz also chastised fellow candidate [crscore]Marco Rubio[/crscore] for supporting these measures.

Trump indicated he opposed a Syrian policy dedicated to regime change on the debate stage as well. Connecting it to the Iraq war, The Donald warned of further destabilization and said America should focus on defeating ISIS instead of trying to fight two enemies at the same time.

When it came to defending his feared moratorium, Trump emphasized his call for a strong border:”We either have a country or we don’t have a country.”

Though he’s not a leading candidate by any measure, Rand Paul also joined in the criticism of recent acts of American intervention and attacked Rubio and Chris Christie for wanting to start World War III.

It’s worth noting that all three of these candidates are the only ones who’ve called for some type of temporary halt on immigration — whether based on national origin or, in Trump’s case, on religious affiliation — in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino Attacks. Trump, Cruz and Paul have also been steadfast in opposing the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States.

In spite of non-interventionist views gaining currency within the GOP following the failures of Iraq and Libya, many neoconservative intellectuals were incensed by Cruz — a figure no one disputes is a conservative — engaging in this kind of rhetoric.

The Washington Post’s resident conservative Jennifer Rubin said that Cruz’s vision had turned “ugly.” Washington Free Beacon Managing Editor Aaron McLean said it was a refutation of America’s role as a global leader. American Enterprise Insitute’s James Pethokoukis declared it “un-Reaganesque.”

And, of course, Foreign Policy took the very logical step in calling an America First policy “un-American.”

Some of Cruz’s critics were upset that he would invoke a term — America First — that’s associated with the much-maligned isolationists who tried to keep the nation out of World War II. But they were mainly upset that Cruz and his fellow “realists” were reluctant to commit the country to more experiments in democracy-building.

According to the critics, which include Graham and Rubio, the best way to defeat radical Islam is to create successful democracies in the Middle East through armed intervention. Additionally, they believe any restrictions placed on immigration from countries rife with Islamic extremism would be against America’s founding principles and fan the flames of extremism.

To put it derisively, the mentality can be summarized as “invade the world, invite the world,” and it was a characteristic effect of the Bush doctrine. The last president not only invaded Iraq in the hope that a coalition-assembled liberal democracy would ward off radicalism, he championed expansive immigration reform that would’ve granted amnesty to illegal aliens and made it easier for more migrants to come to the U.S.

It was thought that these measures would make America the global leader in freedom and make the world a safer place. But while the amnesty push failed to pass, the Iraq intervention made that part of the globe more chaotic.

After both Paris and San Bernardino showed the pitfalls of generous immigration policies, many Americans are skeptical of keeping the status quo in place or making the system easier to pass through.

To a growing number of Republicans, enthusiasm for open borders and democratic adventurism is not in the best interest of American citizens. In fact, they see it as a foolhardy policy that leaves us more open to attack.

While Lindsey Graham may think it’s enough to repeat the Bushism that “we have to kill them over there before they kill us over here,” his party isn’t reflexively buying that line anymore.

Instead, they’d rather have a policy that puts the safety of our citizens first, instead of committing to a worldview that believes everyone on the planet wants to live in a liberal democracy.

Follow Scott on Twitter