The idea that the Republican party Establishment was going to tolerate a takeover of their party by a rag-tag bunch of insurgent "tea partiers" was never very convincing, and Rick Perry’s entrance into the race as the "Teastablishment" candidate – to the hosannas of the neocons — should put that delusion to rest.
For months, the media and the Republican mandarins have been anointing one candidate after another as the chief competitor to Mitt Romney, presumed by many to be the frontrunner. First it was Tim Pawlenty, and after he went nowhere fast it was Jon Huntsman, who has about as much chance as Gary Johnson of winning the race. Now it’s Texas Governor Perry who’s going to unite the various Republican factions around a post-Reaganite, post-Bush conservative consensus. The only problem with that is Perry has aroused the ire of Texas conservatives, who noted the Governor’s Texas Transit Corridor highway project made liberal – if you’ll pardon the expression – use of eminent domain. The TTC proposal put him on the other side of the barricades from most Texas conservatives – and also put him at odds with Rep. Ron Paul, another fast-rising GOP presidential contender, who introduced legislation to block federal money for the scheme. I’ll leave it to others to expose Perry’s RINO credentials on domestic issues, and focus instead on his hostility to the Tea Party when it comes to foreign policy.
At its inception, the Tea Party, as an inchoate movement with no real national leaders, and a fervently single-issue focus, had no foreign policy agenda. As time went on, however – that is, as the bills continued to stream in for our wars in the Middle East – that began to change. It changed because no one can address the fiscal crisis at the core of our problems without facing the question of how to cut the misnamed "defense" budget. It soon became apparent to the tea partiers that a military tasked with policing the world – instead of actually defending this country – accounted for a good chunk of change. Under the all-inclusive rubric of "defense" we spend more than a trillion dollars a year, as much as for so-called entitlements. The rest is "discretionary" spending – you know, like running the actual government.
In any case, the tea partiers, confronted with a bloated Leviathan, soon discovered that the military budget is among the holiest of the federal budget’s sacred cows, and that this reverence is bipartisan: neither the GOP Establishment nor the Democrats would sign on to any real cuts in this sector. The result: a budget deal that relegated possible cuts in the military and overseas budget to the final "tranches" of the budget-reduction process, to go into effect only if the "Super-Congress" fails to reach an agreement.
In short, they’ll yank your grandmother off her life support system, and cut your Social Security – which you’ve been "paying into" all these years – just as you reach retirement age, long before they’ll touch a penny of the trillions being funneled overseas to our far-flung outposts of empire.
The tea partiers, most of them, find this galling, to say the least, and the rumbles of discontent with this Americans-come-last policy provoked a response from the Establishment: the tea partiers, the neocons cried, are a modern manifestation of the dreaded "isolationists," and the Obama cultists joined in the hand-wringing, defending the Dear Leader’s Libyan adventure against Republican "isolationists" like Michelle Bachmann, Ron Paul, and George Will.
Undeterred, tea party activists are pushing ahead with their campaign to cut back Big Government on all levels – including the international level. As The Hill reports, tea partiers are putting pressure on Republicans appointed to the "Super-Committee" to wield the budget knife unsparingly:
"’Nothing should be sacred, and everything needs to be evaluated and cut as much as it can be,’ said Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of Tea Party Patriots.
"Tea Party activists say defense programs should come under the same knife as any other taxpayer-funded programs, and that massive national security budgets were not exempt from their definition of ‘big government.’
"’The liberty movement is about the fundamental limitation of government, and that doesn’t have departmental boundaries with regards to this principle,’ said Chris Littleton, co-founder of the Ohio Liberty Council."
The tea partiers aren’t "isolationists" – that smear word doesn’t really describe anyone in American politics outside of the labor unions and other advocates of economic protectionism. They’re nationalists, albeit not of the all-too-familiar militaristic variety, in that they want a foreign policy that puts America and American interests first, and last. As opposed to the traditional European conception of nationalism as warlike and expansionist, theirs is a distinctively American version that is inward looking and increasingly anti-imperialist.
This is in radical juxtaposition to the views of Señor Perry, who has been characterized by one of his top aides as a "hawk internationalist." This is a good indication that the much-ballyhooed Perry bandwagon began going off the rails before it ever got started. Do the Perryites really believe they can sell their candidate to crusty conservative Republicans as an "internationalist"? Does Phyllis Schlafly know about this?
Just look at who’s been giving him foreign policy advice: according to Josh Rogin, over at Foreignpolicy.com, he’s been in meetings "sometimes for hours" with the likes of former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith, former NSC "strategy guru" William Luti, and a host of other neocons from the last administration, many of whom were instrumental in lying us into war in Iraq. Feith and Luti were the nexus of a disinformation network which fed false "intelligence" to the Congress, the White House, and the public to justify a disastrous invasion which we are still paying for in lives and treasure.
Oh, and what a surprise: it turns out the Perry-neocon lash-up was brokered by disgraced former Defense Secretary Donald "Known Unknowns" Rumsfeld.
Another clueless Texas Governor surrounded by the same Praetorian Guard of conniving neocons who led us down the road to imperial overstretch and fiscal ruin last time around – isn’t that just what the GOP needs right now?
The neocons have anointed their candidate, and it’s clear they have some sense he’s swimming upstream:
"’He will distinguish himself from other Republicans as a hawk internationalist, embracing American exceptionalism and the unique role we must play in confronting the many threats we face,’ one foreign policy advisor with knowledge of Perry’s thinking told The Cable. ‘He has no sympathy for the neo-isolationist impulses emanating from some quarters of the Republican Party.’"
Perry is being sold as the one candidate who can bridge the gap between the tea partiers and the old line "mainstream" Republican Establishment, but those fault-lines are turning into a chasm, as Senator McCain’s anti-Tea Party eruption the other day confirms. When it comes to cutting "defense" – and, more broadly, redefining America’s proper role in the world – Perry and his neocon advisors are going to have to demonstrate how "American exceptionalism" means we’re an exception to the laws of economics. [.pdf] Empires are expensive: a foreign policy of perpetual war costs not only cash but lives. Aside from the fiscal aspect, for most Americans the death of Osama bin Laden has drawn the curtain on the threat from al-Qaeda – especially for those increasing numbers who face the far more immediate threat of financial insolvency. At a time when the homes of so many Americans have gone into foreclosure, Perry’s neocon "experts" are going to have a hard time coming up with a convincing pitch for more military spending, more wars, and more "internationalism."
In trying to sell this warmed-over Bush-ism, the Perry camp is setting itself on a collision course with the tea partiers. Having been sold out by the Republican congressional leadership and its too-little-too-late budget deal – which authorized over a trillion to feed the maw of the Welfare-Warfare State, and only cut the rate of spending growth – the libertarian-constitutionalist wing of the GOP is in no mood for compromise. In a primary season in which the Tea Party is widely seen as the kingmaker, Perry the "internationalist" may see his coronation delayed indefinitely.
The Perry trial balloon was inflated with a lot of hot air when it was first floated in the media, but he may well turn out to be another Fred Thompson – remember him? – or, more precisely, another Rudy Giuliani. You’ll recall that Perry endorsed Giuliani in the last presidential go-round, and I have a sneaking suspicion – or is it a hope? – the Perry campaign is headed for a similar destiny.