Talking Points

Why Russian aggression could set the GOP back to 2003

For most of the post-World War II era, the Republican Party has seemed most fully itself when America had an external enemy to confront. For all the neo-isolationism of figures like former President Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson, there are still a few conservatives who miss the old days.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine might be their chance for a revival. 

"A steely-eyed approach to fighting Soviet communism led to landslide election victories in 1952, 1956, 1972, 1980, 1984, and 1988," GOP pollster Patrick Ruffini lamented Tuesday on Twitter, likening Carlson's recent rhetoric to antiwar protesters of an earlier age. "A similar approach to fighting Islamic terror led to the last Republican popular vote victory in 2004. We have lost our way since then."

There are other signs the old hawkishness that brought about those victories still lurks in a few American hearts. A new poll from the Pew Research Center, released Tuesday, revealed that fully a third of the population — 35 percent — says the U.S. should take military action against Ukraine's Russian invaders "even if it risks a nuclear conflict with Russia."

The good news is that a pretty clear majority of Americans, 62 percent, aren't interested in chancing civilizational suicide. But those numbers suggest there's a not-insignificant constituency for old-fashioned militarism in the United States, that could lead to electoral gold.

In that vein, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) certainly seems to want to keep up with the latest in whiz-bang pew-pew military technology with which future wars will be fought. As they prepare for their likely takeover of the House of Representatives next year, Axios reports Republican committee leaders may get some help from MIT in learning about the latest weaponry wonders. 

We'll see the results of the GOP's MIT seminars if they sweep Congress in November. In the meantime, old-school hawks clearly see a chance to make a comeback. At Commentary magazine, editor John Podhoretz claims that recent events — the American crime wave, Russia's invasion of Ukraine — have vindicated neoconservatism, the muscular subspecies of conservatism many observers deemed responsible for America's disastrous 2003 invasion of Iraq and all that flowed from it.

"Deterrence is what America lost in the years before Vladimir Putin took the gamble of going into Ukraine, and it is deterrence we need to restore," Podhoretz wrote. "That is why this is a neoneoconservative moment."

Maybe. For now, though, it sure seems like President Biden has found a good-if-tricky balance between helping Ukraine defend itself while not allowing the war to spill into the wider world. Can his conservative challengers be trusted to do the same?