Give Donald Trump credit for doing what Ron Paul and his many enthusiastic supporters couldn’t do in 2008 and 2012: He is drastically rewriting the Republican Party’s foreign policy, and in past six months has managed to blow up the stranglehold neo-conservatives have had on the GOP for years.
If you strongly supported George W. Bush in his campaign against John Kerry in 2004, and if you supported John McCain over Barack Obama in 2008, you spent a great deal of time defending Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq, even as the unpopularity of the war grew.
But you were dead wrong according to the 2016 presumptive Republican nominee.
“Well, Bush lied. He got us into the war with lies,” Trump told CNN. “I was surprised that Nancy Pelosi didn’t do more in terms of Bush and going after Bush. It was almost — it just seemed like she was going to really look to impeach Bush and get him out of office, which, personally, I think would have been a wonderful thing.”
Yes, in Trump’s view the impeachment of Bush would have been “a wonderful thing.” Even most Democrats haven’t gone that far.
Trump also said Bill Clinton was impeached for something far less important than war.
“Look at the trouble Bill Clinton got into with something that was totally unimportant,” said Trump. “And they tried to impeach him, which was nonsense. And, yet, Bush got us into this horrible war with lies, by lying, by saying they had weapons of mass destruction, by saying all sorts of things that turned out not to be true.”
Trump stood with very few elected officials who opposed the Iraq war. Among them, Edward Kennedy, Barbara Boxer, Robert Byrd and Barack Obama.
In wake of the terrorist attack on 9/11, the neoconservatives in the Bush administration determined to not only send American troops into Afghanistan, where al Qaeda terrorists were located, but also into Iraq — a nation that had no role in 9/11. Still, the neocons argued Saddam Hussein was a “future” threat to America who “may” have chemical weapons.
The preemptive military action left a leadership void in Iraq, and led to the eventual creation of ISIS.
“The war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake. All right?” said Trump during a debate earlier this year. “The war in Iraq, we spent $2 trillion, thousands of lives…We should’ve never been in Iraq. We have destabilized the Middle East. You call it whatever you want…They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction. There were none. And they knew there were none.”
To suggest Bush lied about Iraq, and should have been impeached for it, is a far stronger anti-neocon position by Trump than Hillary Clinton has ever suggested. In fact, Clinton voted to support Bush’s decision.
Thus why many neocons are walking out of the Trump’s GOP tent.
The last two Republican presidents, Bush 41 and 43, don’t plan to back him.
Mitt Romney, the last GOP nominee in 2012, has waged war against Trump and says he will continue to do so until November.
Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state under George W. Bush, says she has no interest in being part of Trump’s team, will campaign for down-ballot races only, and will skip the GOP convention in Cleveland.
Richard Armitage, the deputy secretary of state under Bush, says, “Trump doesn’t appear to be to be a Republican, he doesn’t appear to want to learn about issues. So I’m going to vote for Mrs. Clinton.”
“Hillary is the lesser evil, by a large margin,” said Eliot Cohen, another former Bush official. “Trump would be an unmitigated disaster for American foreign policy.”
“She would be vastly preferable to Trump,” said longtime neocon advisor Max Boot.
“Trump doesn’t like the Iran nuclear agreement, but his instinct is to make a better deal rather than attacking, while Hillary Clinton has a strong record of supporting military force,” said former ambassador Joseph A. Mussomeli. “Clinton is just another neocon, though wrapped in sheep’s clothing.”
“This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac ‘tapping into’ popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him,” said neocon Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
“I don’t think Donald Trump believes in anything but Donald Trump, and that’s why the right label for his movement is Trumpism — nothing else,” said Danielle Pletka of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
Even the traditionally dependable libertarian-leaning billionaire Koch brothers say backing Trump is “unlikely.”
What is amazing about this development is how far the anti-Iraq sentiment has grown within the GOP. Take this portion of Ron Paul, and the 2008 campaign, from my book Front Row Seat at the Circus:
Ron Paul stood out—I mean, really stood out. The one-time Libertarian nominee for president was widely dismissed by Republicans in 2008 mainly due to his anti-neocon views on foreign policy.
He had been the only GOP presidential candidate to oppose going to war in Iraq and he was jeered at a live presidential debate in Columbia: “I think the party has lost its way because the conservative wing of the Republican Party always advocated a non-interventionist foreign policy… Republicans were elected to end the Korean War. Republicans were elected to end the Vietnam War. There’s a strong tradition of being anti-war in the Republican Party.”
Paul was then asked if those non-interventionist views still held in the aftermath of 9/11: “Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we’ve been over there; we’ve been bombing Iraq for ten years… We don’t understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics… I’m suggesting that we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it, and they are delighted that we’re over there because Osama bin Laden has said, ‘I am glad you’re over on our sand because we can target you so much easier.’ They have already now since that time killed 3,400 of our men, and I don’t think it was necessary.”
At this point in the debate Rudy Giuliani, who was making his leadership as mayor during 9/11 the narrative of his campaign, interrupted and chastised Paul’s position: “That’s an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of September 11th, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don’t think I’ve heard that before, and I’ve heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th and I would ask the congressman to withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn’t really mean that.”
At that point, the Republican crowd erupted in large cheers for Giuliani, as Paul tried to have the last word: “If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem!”
To say Ron Paul was not fully accepted by conservatives as a Republican presidential candidate in 2008 is an understatement. After being booed at this debate he was left out of many others. His point about considering the ramifications of our actions overseas was not selling in the GOP primary even as support for Bush and war in Iraq was quickly dropping in polls. Paul’s campaign crowds, however, steadily grew throughout 2007. This strange political coalition of college students, anti-war liberals, and anti-government libertarians had the potential of expanding the GOP brand, if—and this was doubtful—the neocons in the party could share space.
Ron Paul was booed at Republican events just two elections ago because of his opposition to the war in Iraq. Eight years later, Donald Trump, the man who called for Bush’s impeachment, is doing what Paul wanted and pushing the neocons right out of the Republican Party.