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4 November, 2020  ▪  Марк Войджер

The uprising of elites

The US foreign and security policy elite’s revolt against Trump

Barely a week before Election Day, Donald Trump’s support base is eroding rapidly, with multiple attacks being launched against him, this time not from outside the party, but from its very heart, from its foreign and security policy elite. This process has become quite pronounced, especially in the sphere of foreign and security policy which for decades since the era of Ronald Reagan has been seen as one of the forte’s of the Republican party. Thus, the last couple of months have seen major shifts in the preferences of major components of what was once a rather cohesive Republican party elites. Among these are the Lincoln Project - career Republicans who call on Americans to vote out President Trump; the alumni of the two Presidential campaigns of Senator Mitt Romney (among which the author of this article), the former staffers of Senator McCain and President George W. Bush; and probably most importantly – many hundreds (780 so far) senior military – generals and admirals, top diplomats and foreign and security policy senior executives. This shift has been long in the making, with Trump consistently denigrating the Foreign Service and intelligence community over the course of his presidency, besmirching the names and ruining the reputations of countless numbers of patriotic Americans whose mission in life has been protecting America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Those years of neglect and contempt on the part of Trump are now backfiring, as those groups of influential individuals, albeit smaller in numbers compared to the Republican party convention halls filled with ecstatic Trump devotees, have self-organized in an effort to defeat him and support his opponent, Democrat Joe Biden. It is worth looking into those two groups – Trump’s political opponents among the Republicans, and the foreign and security elite professionals (comprising both Republicans and Democrats), in order understand the motivations behind their actions that have led to this inevitable split in the “Grand Old Party”.


The Lincoln Project and the “Romney Alumni For Biden” – the Return to the Roots of the Republican Party

The Lincoln Project comprises a group of longtime Republican strategists who have worked for the late Senator John McCain and President George W. Bush, and who are now launching a scorching campaign against Trump. Many of them are political strategists who have supported Republican candidates for many decades – since the times of Reagan in the 1980s, but who have now organized and launched an attack aimed to defeat the incumbent president who happens to be from the same party – a paradox rarely seen in America’s political history. They call themselves the “Party of Lincoln”, after Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican elected president in 1860, who in their views, exemplifies the philosophical and spiritual foundations of the party as it once was intended to be. They are by no means liberals or “lefties” – many are gun-owning, pro-life Conservatives, many of them are also war veterans. Yet, they believe that Trump has betrayed the Republican party, and even worse – that he has failed America, so now they are trying to convince their fellow Americans to vote against him, and in favor of Joe Biden.

One of the founders of the Lincoln Project, Steve Schmidt, is a Republican strategist who used to work for President George W. Bush White House, and he was also the manager of John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. His self-proclaimed mission is to convince the millions of Republicans who reject Trump’s policies, personal style and political philosophy, that there is an alternative, namely – Joe Biden, the Democratic contender. The Lincoln Project super Political Action Committee was launched in December 2019 by seven co-founders who are veteran Republican party activists and former advisers to top Republican Senators, and President George W. Bush.  They claim that they do not officially represent any particular candidate, although they do endorse Biden but are united primarily in their desire to help defeat Trump by mobilizing other disenchanted Republican voters, among which independent-leaning men, college-educated Republicans, the suburban Republican women. According to them, the real dividing line in the Republican Party is between college-educated and non-college-educated voters, as the latter group, especially the non-college-educated workers from the so-called “Rust Belt states” being among Trump’s staunchest supporters. This is in effect a reversal on the 1960s Southern strategy whereby Republicans used racist slogans to attract Southern white voters and help elect Nixon.

Nonetheless, according to some of them, nowadays this is “a game of small numbers, as Donald Trump won this election by 77,000 votes in three states” back in 2016. They are hopeful that their efforts can steal those numbers from Trump and erase his small lead, as the perceive it. Their “defection” from the Republican Party is to a great extent driven by nostalgia for Ronald Reagan's Morning in America, from 1984, for the Grand Old Party that once carried the torch of anti-Communism and exemplified the hopes of the Free World for survival in the face of global Communist onslaughts and victory in the Cold War against the Soviets. According to them, Trump is simply “unfit for office, period. To what extent they represent a threat to Trump can be judged by the fact that he attacked all of them by name, and as a result, he boosted their credibility and were able to raise 2 million dollars in 48 hours.

The earlier in September, the efforts of the Lincoln Project were boosted, independently, by a new group of dissatisfied Republicans – several dozen former staffers from Sen. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns in 2007 and 2011, the George W. Bush administration and the campaign and Senate staff of former Sen. John McCain. They co-wrote and published a letter in an effort to elect Joe Biden. Senator Romney, in particular, has always been a staunch critic of Trump, personally, and of his governing style and political direction that party is taking under him, so it is not surprising that his former staffers would unite behind an effort to defeat Trump in November and bring Joe Biden to the White House next January.

In their open letter published by Politico magazine, the group “Romney Alumni for Biden” states that Trump’s rhetoric and actions run against everything that the traditional Republican Party stands for, and against their own convictions. According to them, four more years of a Trump presidency will morally bankrupt this country, irreparably damage our democracy, and permanently transform the Republican Party into a toxic personality cult”.


America’s Foreign and Security Policy Elite Joins the Election Fight Against Trump

Earlier this month, another extremely influential group have pledged support for Biden and denounced Trumps policies that they view as detrimental to America, its democracy, and to the world – that of 780 former generals, admirals, ambassadors and senior level advisors on foreign and security policy - Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. In their statement they unanimously “endorse Joe Biden to be the next President of the United States” and state that “he is the leader our nation needs.” They direct strong criticism at Trump for leaving the nation and the world in turmoil, and for having “demonstrated he is not equal to the enormous responsibilities of his office”, for having been soft on Russia, unnecessarily harsh in his trade war with China, and failing the nation in not providing proper response to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to their unanimous statement, “Joe Biden has the character, principles, wisdom, and leadership necessary to address a world on fire. That is why Joe Biden must be the next President of the United States; why we vigorously support his election; and why we urge our fellow citizens to do the same.”


Tectonic Shifts within the Republican Party and America’s Much Needed Return as the Leader of the Free World

Should the Lincoln Project and the Romney Alumni for Biden succeed in their Herculean task, and should the plea of the hundreds of top security professionals be heard by the Republican base this could be the first time for many Republican voters to vote Democratic – notable previous examples of such shifts included the group of Southern Democrats who were social and security conservatives and who supported some of Reagan’s policies in the 1980s. Earlier, in the late 19060s – early 1970s, President Nixon executed his “Southern strategy” that included capturing the vote of Southern Democrats disillusioned with their party’s shift toward support for minorities following the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. That same decade, the 1970s, witnessed a third intellectual defection from the Democratic party – the group of security hawks who were disillusioned with the party’s turn to the left under Presidential candidate George McGovern in the 1972 election, and the pacifist stance during the Vietnam war, as well as the left’s criticism of Israel after the 1967 Six Days’ War. That particular group, that included security hawks, such as Paul Wolfowitz, came to be known as the “neoconservative”, and was particularly influential during the George W. Bush administration in the early 2000s.  The rising numbers of senior foreign and security professionals – civilian and military alike – that Trump has turned against his failing policies and their unanimous support for Joe Biden, represent an even greater shift than those observed in decades past. Thus, any splintering of the Republican Party in the direction of its Democratic opponent, could have long-term effects due to the influx of “hawks”, especially those who view Russia as the main geopolitical foe of the United States in the 21st century (according to the statement made by then Presidential candidate Romney during the 2011-2012 campaign). Those shifts may not involve huge numbers of the rank-and-file of the Republican Party, but they promise to be tectonic in nature, nonetheless, and lead to a major rearrangement of the foreign policy and security agendas of both parties in the decade of the 2020s and beyond. Thus, should the largely myopic foreign and security policy worldviews espoused by Trump and his wing in the Republican Party prevail, the Party will be pushed indefinitely into the corner of isolationism and rejection of major involvements in major military engagements across the global, as this will inevitably result in the loosening of America’s security commitments to NATO and Europe. Ironically, this was exactly the place that the Republican party was occupying exactly a century ago, in the 1920s, in the pre-war period prior to the rise of Roosevelt and America’s involvement in WWII. Whatever the exact outcome of this split within the political and foreign and security policy elite of the party, regardless of who wins on 3rd November, the Republican Party will never be the same, and it will be largely a catastrophe of Trump’s own making. The only remaining hope for the party to stay relevant is that a critical mass of patriotic Republicans will have seen “the writing on the wall” by now, and conclude that Trump’s time is up, thus deciding to vote based on their conscience and not along party lines.  Such “breach of party discipline” is an absolute must during the most consequential presidential elections in our lifetimes, all in the name of America’s genuine return to being the leader of the Free World, a “first among equals” in a family of democratic nations united against the forces of authoritarianism and obscurantism, as it has been always over the last century.

Mark Voyger, Senior Fellow, Center for European Political Analysis

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