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In 2024, Keep an Eye on Foreign Policy

Politics

The issue may not be top of mind for voters, but it is for Permanent Washington.

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ATLANTA—In the Spring of 2022, then-candidate J.D. Vance spoke at TAC’s snap conference in Washington to urge restraint in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Foreign policy is uniquely dangerous,” Vance said, “It is kind of ok to be on the wrong side of the consensus on trade, on immigration. But if you are on the wrong side of the foreign policy consensus in this town, it is remarkable how much the media organs of both the establishment right and the left will go after you.”

Vance continued: “The first time that I’ve actually ever had donors push back against all the crazy things that I say over the course of my senate campaign is on this Russia/Ukraine thing. The craziest idea that I’ve had is that we should not get involved in a nuclear war with Russia.”

Polling consistently shows that foreign policy isn’t a top concern for voters. But as Vance noted, it certainly matters to the political class in Washington. Members of that class are committed to ensuring that the GOP remains the party of endless wars. And it seems many in the Republican presidential field for 2024 agree.

Here in Atlanta at Erick Erickson’s “The Gathering,” we’ve had most of the GOP presidential candidates on stage, besides the one that voters actually want to be the nominee. But Trump still looms over this gathering, as he does all things 2024. So it has been a good opportunity to see how these also-ran candidates plan to differentiate themselves from the 45th president: Many are quick to double down on increasing our overseas meddling.

Mike Pence was asked directly how he’d distinguish himself from the man who was his boss just three years ago. He pointed to his hawkishness from the start, with platitudes about America as the leader of the free world, and swiped at “other candidates [who] want to pull back from American leadership.” He cited Eastern Europe, but threw in Iran, too, for good measure.

Similarly, Chris Christie emphasized his commitment to defending the borders of Eastern Europe. “Two weeks ago, I was in Ukraine,” Christie said, “I will tell you for certain this is not a territorial dispute.” The line was a clear swipe at Ron DeSantis’s response to Tucker Carlson on Ukraine earlier this year—which the Florida governor had to awkwardly walk back shortly thereafter. (DeSantis seems to have learned how thorny the issue is for the coalition he’s attempting to build. He didn’t mention Ukraine during his time on stage here in Atlanta.)

Nikki Haley brought back the worst of mid-aughts fear-mongering to make her case for increased intervention. For the former U.N. ambassador, it seems the specter of another devastating attack on the homeland is somehow connected to the question of who governs the Donbas. “Right now you see a lot of people, and you’ll see a lot of candidates on that [debate] stage, who want to take the lazy way out and say ‘Oh, we don’t need to worry about our friends.’ Yes we do need to worry about our friends! Because guess what? Don’t be so arrogant to think that a 9/11 can’t happen.”

Only Vivek Ramaswamy, the youngest candidate in the race, was willing to offer an alternative view. It’s no wonder he’s surging in the polls.

“The first thing I would do is end the Ukraine war.” Ramaswamy said, “I will end the Ukraine war on terms that advance American interests. Specifically: Freeze the current lines of control like the Korean War armistice agreement. Make a hard commitment that NATO will not admit Ukraine…And I want to be clear about why: This will require, as a condition of that deal, Vladimir Putin to exit his military alliance with China. And the Russia-China military alliance is the top threat that we face today.”

Ramaswamy knows that his foreign policy, which he described as “moving from the model of fake liberal hegemony to a model of actual realism,” is an outlier in the race. “I’m frankly shocked that I am the only person in either political party right now actually that has embraced that vision.”

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The millennial entrepreneur is conveniently discounting the primary’s overwhelming frontrunner with that declaration. Yes, the Trump administration’s record was more mixed bag than wholesale pivot from the party’s liberal hawkishness of previous years. But this was still a president who didn’t start any new wars, and a candidate who continues to draw the ire of the party establishment for suggesting that maybe our goal in Ukraine should be for people to stop dying.

Issues like inflation and entitlements may dominate the presidential debate on Wednesday. But keep an eye on foreign policy. It still is the driving issue for Permanent Washington.

And it seems it is deepening the chasm between the GOP and its voters as well.

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