On Dec. 15, the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas hosted the fifth republican presidential candidates debate. The Venetian is owned by Sheldon Adelson, billionaire Republican kingmaker and new owner of Nevada’s largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The theme of the debate was national security. Adelson strongly supports a militantly pro-Israel, anti-Iran foreign policy. Adelson also supports a liberal immigration policy. Many believe he supports Sen. Marco Rubio for the nomination.
The stage was set to highlight the long-standing Republican love affair with threat inflation, followed by examples of how each candidate would exercise “leadership,” i.e. by ordering bombing, invading and sanctioning.
Instead, a strange thing happened. A crack in the GOP consensus appeared, and widened into a deep chasm. By the end of the night, it became clear that the neocon tide was receding.
I count Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina as the primary neocon hawks in the debate. They believe the United States is the greatest nation in history, so exceptional it reserves the right to determine the policies and rulers of any state that does not adhere to its world view and goals. Their foreign policy is ideological, bound up in theories derived from non-American sources like the communist Leon Trotsky and the idealist philosopher Leo Strauss.
On the opposite side of the political divide stands Sen. Rand Paul, who represents “libertarian realism.” Realists believe in balance of power between nations, diplomacy, and reluctance to go to war. Libertarians emphasize protection of civil liberties, free market economies, trade, and cultural exchange.
A newly revitalized force, the Jacksonian wing of the GOP, emerged during the debate. Like our seventh president, Andrew Jackson, Jacksonians are headstrong, sometimes act without legal authority. They want America to be great, but not necessarily an empire.
Sen. Ted Cruz condemned our record of regime change consisting of overthrowing secular authoritarian governments only to see chaos result. A true Jacksonian, he said he would carpet bomb Islamic State because of the San Bernardino massacre, even though that State didn’t exist when the perpetrators became radicalized.
The Donald railed at Jeb Bush, saying the Iraq War a “former president” started was a total disaster. He said the $4 trillion spent on neocon foreign wars could have been better spent here in America on infrastructure. Trump also does not share the neocon compulsion to be reflexively anti-Russian.
The Donald simply says he likes Russian President Vladimir Putin. Vlad friends him back.
Rand Paul attacked Gov. Christie’s promise to shoot down Russian planes violating the no-fly zone Christie would somehow erect in Syria. That horse has long ago left the stable. Because Turkey shot down a Russian jet, Russia immediately placed sophisticated anti-aircraft missile launchers in Syria. Christie has attended a neocon crash course in foreign affairs recently, after admitting his complete ignorance of the subject. His newfound policy consists of Jersey Shore rhetorical chest thumping about American capabilities that either don’t exist or if somehow implemented could result in, as Paul warned, World War III.
Paul and Cruz attacked Marco together. They shredded Rubio’s love for the National Security Agency’s domestic spying. They attacked his alliance with Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer to pass the “Gang of Eight” comprehensive immigration reform.
Rubio, considered a brilliant orator, was exposed by Cruz and Paul as the master of shouted cliches and half truths. Adelson may have to look for someone else to back. It won’t be Rand Paul, because Paul’s Jeffersonian approach is abhorrent to neocons. Will he support Sen. Cruz? The immigration issue may cut that marriage off. Who’s next?