The good news for anti-interventionists out of Iowa is that Bernie Sanders has defied the conventional wisdom and effectively delayed the coronation of Hillary Rodham Clinton. In spite of a ramped up effort to isolate the Vermont socialist from the Democratic mainstream, Hillary is in for a bruising fight that will only get bloodier when Sanders smashes her in New Hampshire, as seems likely.
On the Republican side of the aisle, the news from Iowa is decidedly mixed. There are glad tidings in the fact that the two candidates not wholly-owned subsidiaries of the neocons came in first (Cruz) and second (Trump). Yet the unexpectedly strong third place finish by
the War Twink Marco Rubio has the War Party celebrating. Not that we didn’t know Rubio was going to come in third all along: that’s what the polls told us, and they were right. Yet we were being primed in the run up to the actual balloting with the narrative that third place was actually a “victory” for the Cuban Bombshell. And we have the “mainstream” media chiming in with the usual neocon suspects when it comes to pushing this line.
Ideologically, Rubio is the perfect neocon vehicle. He is not only opposed to the Iran deal, he has also suggested war with Tehran is practically inevitable. He avers that we should’ve been arming the Syrian Islamist rebels from the very beginning, a view he shares with Hillary Clinton. He has run ads complaining that the US spies on Israel – but hasn’t said a word about extensive Israeli spying on the US. He wants to add $1trillion to the military budget: he wants to shoot down Russian aircraft over Syria and confront Moscow in Ukraine. And his dog whistle to the neocons is his campaign theme: he touts “a new American century,” limning the battle-flag of the old Project for a New American Century that did so much to give us the invasion of Iraq.
The Rubio campaign, in essence, is the GOP Establishment’s last stand against the roiling tides of populist backlash that threaten to bring it down. Which is why the donor class is rapidly moving into Rubio’s camp. The Cruz campaign is an attempt to straddle the fence: while the Canadian-born Senator has been critical of the neocons, he’s such a consummate opportunist that he isn’t above placating them as long as he gains some political benefit. And his foreign policy stance contains elements of neoconservatism, as well as a somewhat attenuated realism. Trump, as this perceptive piece on his foreign policy team makes clear, is an unambiguous realist, which is why the neocons have pulled out all the stops in their effort to derail the Trump Train.
Lost in the shuffle, unfortunately, is the long shot campaign of Sen. Rand Paul, who hoped to utilize the libertarian network in the GOP built up by his father. Having squandered that legacy by pandering to the neocons, coming up with a Cruz-esque “conservative realism” to stand in for libertarian anti-interventionism, and being a little too clever for his own good, Sen. Paul cut the ground out from under his own feet. Which just goes to show that “pragmatism” isn’t all that pragmatic. The Rand Paul campaign wound up being co-opted by Cruz, who made an open – and seemingly successful – bid for the Paulian base. The sort of snobbery and cultural leftism rife among libertarians who disdain populism as a matter of “principle” ensured that those former Ron Paul voters not scarfed up by Cruz would defect to Trump.
It’s theoretically possible that Paul, having learned his lesson and gone back to his “radical” roots, could rebound in New Hampshire – but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.
The lesson to be learned here is identical to the one members of the Libertarian Party were taught in 1980, when LP candidate Ed Clark, backed by Koch money, announced that libertarianism is the equivalent of “low-tax liberalism.” As Murray Rothbard put it at the time: “And they didn’t even get the votes!”