Lessons of the Midterm Elections

After making the case for political activism on behalf of anti-interventionism in Wednesday’s column, the results of all too many people not heeding my advice showed up on Thursday as the War Party made big gains in the midterm elections.

There’s just one thing wrong with this rather self-serving take on the election results, however: it’s not true. While outright militarists of the Republican brand did indeed get elected, as Daniel Larison points out in The American Conservative:

"Many voters backed candidates that clearly didn’t represent their views on at least one major foreign policy issue. For example, Iowa Democratic Senate nominee [Bruce] Braley built his political career around opposition to the Iraq war, and [Joni] Ernst hammered him on this during the campaign, yet supporters of the war against ISIS split evenly between them. Among those that disapproved of the military action, Ernst won handily 53-43%."

The same is true in Colorado, where, as Larison puts it:

"[GOP candidate Cory] Gardner won 52% among those that disapproved of the military action despite launching the most shamelessly demagogic attacks on his opponent on this very issue."

They voted for Gardner – and Ernst – for reasons other than the candidates’ warmongering: indeed, these voters, whose choices were motivated by economic issues, may well be more inclined to support a tax-cutting free market noninterventionist like Sen. Rand Paul on the national level than a neoconservative type who wants to invade the world. And it wasn’t just Colorado and Iowa where this indifference to the foreign policy views of the victor showed up. Larison underscores an amazing fact that no one else, as far as I can see, is reporting:

"This pattern was repeated nationwide: opponents of the war against ISIS tended to vote for Republican House candidates (55-43%), most of whom have been reliably in favor of the intervention, and a slim majority of supporters of the war (51%) voted for Democratic candidates. It is no wonder that the more hawkish candidates prevail when relatively dovish voters back them regardless of their positions. Nonetheless, this also gives us another reason to be skeptical when hawks claim that these election results are proof that aggressive foreign policy is a political winner."

Yet it’s undeniable that the victor in the Arkansas Senate race, neocon man-on-horseback Tom Cotton – who made national headlines by declaring the editors of the New York Times should be jailed – used his military credentials to his advantage, beating Sen. Mark Pryor and emerging as the War Party’s Great White Hope.

The problem with Pryor was that he offered no real alternative to Cotton’s unabashed militarism, voting in favor of arming the Syrian rebels and bluntly refusing to debate foreign policy at all. Pryor was, in short, a typical "progressive" squish on these matters, but no matter how disconnected Cotton’s ultra-hawkishness was to his Election Day triumph, the fact remains that he is now in the US Senate, where he’ll join John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joni Ernst in the front ranks of the vocal Militarist Caucus plumbing for war.

And with the election out of the way, President Obama is now seeking a new Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), the scope of which will determine the parameters of our re-invasion of Iraq for many years to come. Senators-elect Cotton and Ernst, along with their fellow Republican interventionists, are sure to be arguing in favor of an authorization as wide and open-ended as possible. And who will rise to oppose them?

Surely not the Democrats, whose own leaders – starting with the President – are all on board for Iraq War III. Sen. Rand Paul, maybe? Don’t bet on it: he’s already come out in favor of the new war, and it’s a tough call as to whether he’ll speak up on this crucial issue. If the AUMF is too broad, he can always vote no – but will he? Aside from his maddening Robert Taft-like ambiguity on this crucial question, he’s only a single Senator.

Sen. Pryor failed to confront Cotton’s dangerous demagoguery, running away from the issue of war and peace. He didn’t even mention the Republican’s weird view that officeholders are inherently "superior" human beings – perhaps because he agrees with it. (Yes, Cotton studied under Straussianneocon guru Harvey Mansfield at Harvard). And of course Pryor didn’t dare bring up the nearly $1 million contribution from a political action committee devoted to pursuing the agenda of a foreign country.

The lesson of Pryor’s defeat should be clear enough: the neocons play hardball, and only playing harder ball is going to bring them down. Whether Sen. Paul and the small but growing noninterventionist caucus can assimilate this tutorial in time to avoid disaster for themselves and the country is an open question.

Also open is the question of the ability of congressional warmongers to derail a possible agreement with Iran on its nuclear program. The November 26 deadline for a negotiated settlement looms large and the new Congress is sure to go along with Benjamin Netanyahu against their own President in opposing any agreement. New sanctions are a near certainty, a move sure to torpedo any agreement.

Who will stand against the War Party when it comes to the question of World War III in the Middle East? Sen. Paul – who’s spent the last few months kissing up to the Israel lobby? I’d like to believe it’s likely, or even a real possibility – but, like the Senator, I’m a realist, so I’m just going to sit back, chill out, and watch the drama unfold.


You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].