GOP Isolationism Is Overstated

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Yesterday I touched on one of the big questions swirling around the 2012 election and the future of the Republican Party generally–namely, what kind of GOP foreign policy does the Tea Party movement want to see? The answer has always been vague. We know that Ron and Rand Paul and a small handful of other Tea Party figures are either skeptics or outright opponents of the Afghanistan war and untrammeled Pentagon spending. But it’s never been clear how widely those sentiments have spread among Republicans in Congress.

Into this realm extrapolation and conjecture comes Benjamin Friedman of the libertarian CATO Institute, hardly a cheerleader for expensive foreign adventures, with some helpful facts:

There is no “isolationist” wing of the GOP. Of the Republicans’ 47 senators and 242 representatives, only 5 percent (15 members) expressed support for cutting defense spending. Adding those in the “ambiguously for” category makes it 13 percent. Forty-one percent are against cutting defense spending; with those ambiguously against, it’s 60 percent.

Only 10 Republicans, or 4 percent, are against the war in Afghanistan, and none are senators. Including the skeptical members, 10 percent are somewhat antiwar. Eighty percent support the war.

The tea party is not mellowing Republican militarism. If it were, freshman Republicans, who mostly proclaim allegiance to the movement, should be more dovish than the rest. That’s not the case. Five of the 101 Republican freshmen and 10 of the 184 who aren’t newcomers support cutting defense spending. That’s about 5 percent of each group.

No new Republican opposes the war in Afghanistan outright. Including skeptics, 9 percent of freshmen and 11 percent of the rest are against the war.

I know some smart Democrats opposed to the Afghanistan war are waiting for enough Republicans to turn against the conflict that Obama will have the political cover for a withdrawal. Based on these numbers, however, that seems like wishful thinking for now.