When one thinks of the neoconservatives what comes to mind is their warmongering, and they have indeed been the War Party’s brains since their incubation inside the Democratic party and their defection to the GOP during the Vietnam era. Yet there are other aspects of the neooconservative mind – or, rather, the neoconservative personality – that are significant, and one of these is their viciousness.
These guys (and gals) fight dirty: the smear, the ad hominem argument, is their signature method. Remember the campaign against Chuck Hagel that targeted him as an “anti-Semite” They lost that one, yet they are not the type to change their ways. They tried the same tack with Donald Trump, throwing every smear in the book at him, and their reaction to his amazing victory in the primaries underscores both the primal hatred they feel for their enemies, and their obsession with control of the institutions they infiltrate.
For many months now, Bill Kristol, the neocons’ little Lenin, has been trying to gin up a fifth party candidate who will take enough votes away from Trump to deny him the White House. First there was Mitt Romney, and then was Sen. Ben Saase being floated as the chosen sacrificial lamb, and when they demurred the Kristolians turned to one David French, a scribbler for National Review – who backed out after a week.
But now, finally, the #NeverTrump movement – which was always a neocon front group – has come forth with a willing candidate: Evan McMullin, a 40-something year-old former CIA agent, former House Republican foreign policy director, and former investment banker at Goldman Sachs.
To be sure, the McMullin campaign won’t be emphasizing the Goldman Sachs connection: the candidate’s Twitter bio merely mentions that he has been a “businessman.” And with good reason: memories of the Big Bank Bailout are still fresh in the minds of the very constituency he hopes to cultivate. And McMullin’s role at Goldman Sachs was in the investment banking division, where the underwriting of foreign government bonds and some pretty dicey financial shenanigans occur mostly in the dark.
He is the archetypal neoconservative: a full-bore interventionist, who is clearly making foreign policy the centerpiece of his campaign, citing his experience in “fighting terrorism” as his chief talking point – aside, that is, from attacking Trump almost exclusively. In a speech he declared that the US role is to police the world in order to stop “genocide.” Echoing the new cold war rhetoric of the Clinton campaign, and his former boss, ex-CIA director Michael Morrell, he declares that Trump is “bought and paid for by Vladimir Putin.” And as a key player in the neocon wing of the CIA, which ginned up phony “intelligence” to drag us into the Iraq war, McMullin wants us to re-invade Iraq, overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and longs for a US confrontation with Russia in eastern Europe.
What is the purpose of the McMullin campaign? After all, as ballot access expert Richard Winger informs us, at this late date he could only petition for ballot status in less than half the states – and so his stated aim, the White House, is impossible. Yes, this piece in National Review lays out a scenario where the election is thrown into the House of Representatives and McMullin comes away with the prize – but how likely is that? I would say next to impossible.
So if McMullin in the White House isn’t going to happen, even under the most favorable circumstances, then what is the point of his candidacy?
There are three goals, and they are, in descending order of importance:
1) Deny Trump the White House – The neocons hate Trump, as their voluble participation in the Never Trump movement makes clear enough. They hate his populism; they hate his “America First” foreign policy. And they hate him personally: his “blue collar billionaire” persona offends their delicate sensibilities in the same way it offends their brothers-under-the-skin, the liberal elites of which they are a dissident faction.
2) Assert their power – The neocons have been having a very rough time of it lately. The Iraq war discredited them, and, indeed, made the word “neocon” synonymous with warmongering loser and liar par excellence. By raising their independent banner in this election, they are showing the world that they’re still around, and still a force to be reckoned with.
3) Destroy the GOP – The neocons cannot let a Trumpified Republican party stand. Trump’s “America First” foreign policy views – which are essentially “isolationist,” i.e. noninterventionist – are anathema to them. In this long rant by #NeverTrump GOP operative Rick Wilson, a key player in the “Better for America” PAC that is backing McMullin, writes:
“When it’s over, Trumpkins, remember: You’re not purging us. We’re purging you.”
This is nonsense: what the Republican primaries showed is that the power of the neocons to determine who is to be “purged” and who is to be anointed is over. Bush Republicanism is a dead as phrenology and non-Copernican theories of the solar system. In short, Republican primary voters, like most Americans, are sick and tired of endless wars, and elitist domestic policy, which is another reason why the McMullin campaign is going to go nowhere. It’s why Marco Rubio went nowhere. And it’s why any Republican candidate who takes his or her talking points from the latest issue of the Weekly Standard won’t stand a chance in the GOP primaries of the future.
Some of the neocons – the ones who value proximity to power over their ostensible commitment to the Republican party – recognize this, and moved quickly to endorse Hillary Clinton. Kristol and his followers, however, are reluctant to give up their hard-won gains in the GOP, and, in a fit of pique, are trying to organize a rearguard defense, which, even if it doesn’t succeed, gives them sufficient cover so that they don’t reveal themselves for the unprincipled power-seekers they truly are. If they can’t continue to control the Republican party, then it must be destroyed – and this is where their inherent viciousness comes into play.
“Rule or ruin” has always been the operative strategic principle of the neoconservatives. If you go back into their history, their long rightward hegira didn’t begin in the Democratic party, but on the far left fringes of American politics – in the Trotskyist movement. (I wrote about this at length in my book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.) Their strategic vision has always been organized around the tactic of “entryism” – an old Trotskyist trick, in which they enter a larger body, infiltrate the leadership, and then either seize the reins of power or else destroy their unwilling host.
This is what happened back in the 1930s, when Trotsky urged his followers to infiltrate the old Socialist Party. The original neocons (including Bill Kristol’s father, Irving) were “anti-Stalinist socialists,” followers of Max Shachtman, who eventually wound up in the Democratic party. Centered around Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson (D-Boeing), the neocons quit the Democratic party during the Vietnam war era, and entered the GOP. This replicated the strategy of the Trotskyists in the 1930s, who abandoned their independent existence as an isolated Marxist sect and entered the Socialist Party of Norman Thomas.
The idea was to increase their ranks and, if they couldn’t take over the party, split from it greatly enhanced. They stayed in the Socialist Party about a year, until their endless factionalism caused them to be expelled. James P. Cannon, their longtime leader, summing up the Trotskyist incursion, boasted that not only had they doubled their membership, but they had also knocked out the Socialists as a viable party:
“The Socialist Party was put on the sidelines. This was a great achievement, because it was an obstacle in the path of building a revolutionary party. The problem is not merely one of building a revolutionary party, but of clearing obstacles from its path. Every other party is a rival, every other party is an obstacle.”
In summing up the results of their entry, Cannon reported that Trotsky “said that alone would have justified the entry into the organization even if we hadn’t gained a single new member.”
“Every other party is a rival, every other party is an obstacle” – and must be destroyed. And surely a Republican party that doesn’t buy into the new cold war with Russia, doesn’t want to invade Syria, and raises the banner of “America First” – the old slogan of American anti-interventionists, so hated by the neocons – is going to be targeted for destruction by Kristol & Co. And that is precisely the purpose of the McMullin campaign: the end of the GOP as a viable national party.
However, as usual, the neocons may be biting off their noses to spite their faces. Because the entry of McMullin into the race means that there are now no less than four anti-Trump candidates vying for votes. And if, like me, you see this election as a referendum on Trump, with the GOP candidate dominating and defining the election-year discourse, then that means the anti-Trump vote is going to be split four ways, with McMullin, Libertarian Gary Johnson, Green Party nominee Jill Stein, and of course Hillary divvying up the #NeverTrump electorate. Which means that Trump, in spite of his terrible poll numbers, could pull this off in spite of everything.
And I have to wonder how long before Trump, with his capacity for inventing insulting and very effective nicknames for his opponents, comes up with a good one for McMullin. If I may make a suggestion: the shaved head, and the mockery-inducing pretentious solemnity of what is clearly a spoiler candidacy, practically beg us to call him Egghead McMuffin.
Important Note! – If you’ve been reading Aniwar.com since the beginning, you know that we were among the very first to point to the central role played by the neocons in ginning up the wars we’ve been engaged in since well before 9/11. Indeed, one can make the argument that we popularized the term "neocon" and turned it into the term of opprobrium that it is today.
Yes, we’ve been around for quite a while – since 1995, in fact. But we need your help to keep going: and, unlike the neocons, we don’t have unlimited funding. We depend on people like yourself to keep this operation afloat. Right now we’re at a crucial point in our current fundraising campaign, and we need your help to put us over the hump. So please: make your tax-deductible donation right now. Because in this era of perpetual war, Antiwar.com is indispensable.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
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.