Why Trump Won: The Foreign Policy Factor

The media – and by that I mean a horde of Clinton surrogates masquerading as “journalists” – is in full-bore self-examination mode, strenuously trying to figure out how to “explain” the victory of Donald J. Trump – as if they are doctors who must diagnose the nature and cause of a disease. Congruent with this is the bafflement of the pollsters, whose prognostications the media mandarins depended on to confirm their own biases. Only two or three major pollsters got this one right.

So certain were they that Hillary Clinton was going to be the 45th President of these United States that both New York magazine and Newsweek ran covers proclaiming Her Majesty the winner before the votes were counted: these are now fated to become collectors’ items.

And now the anguished cry goes up from the press gallery: How could we have been so wrong?

All sorts of explanations are being bruited about. There’s the America-is-racist-xenophobic-anti-gay mantra of the far left, which is so mired in identity politics that they’re effectively cut off from anything remotely resembling reality. The fact that Trump scored better than Romney in all these demographics – and that Clinton failed to mobilize the minority vote – doesn’t impinge on this narrative. After all, if Trump is really the reincarnation of Hitler-Mussolini, then why did minorities fail to respond to Hillary’s call to arms against the dreaded “alt-right”?

Then there’s the Forgotten Man/Woman trope: poor whites in the “Rust Belt” who feel excluded from the concerns of the Beltway elites rose up in record numbers and voted for their man. Immiserated by what Trump denounced as the “bad deals” of NAFTA, TPP, etc., living in the shadow of deserted factories, and addicted to opiods, these downtrodden semi-rural folks harkened to Trump’s message of economic nationalism and gloried in the promise that he would make them great again – or, at least, not quite so poor.

While there is some truth to this, the attribution of purely economic motives to these voters – in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, as well as throughout the Midwest and South – is another version of the same condescending attitude that led the media to ignore their plight in the first place. To the Beltway bravo who makes a good salary and never gets his or her hands dirty, the denizens of Flyover Country are merely stomachs only tenuously attached to brains. They are supposedly incapable of having motives unattached to their desire to pay the rent, consume more fast food, and drink themselves to death at the local speakeasy.

What these earnest and often learned analyses of Trumpism leave out is that the sons and daughters of the Forgotten Men (and Women) are the War Party’s cannon fodder. What future is there for someone born in one of these half-deserted husks of what used to be America’s industrial heartland? Very often they find a way out by joining the military. And how has our military been engaged in the past fifteen-plus years? They’ve been fighting wars in the Middle East, futile grinding conflicts that have not ended well – and, indeed, have not ended at all.

The one factor conspicuously missing from these expositions on the electorate’s romance with Trump is the attraction of his “America First” foreign policy stance. Indeed, Trump’s view that the US footprint abroad is too large and his vow to make it much smaller is what enraged the Washington, D.C. elites the most about his candidacy: a bevy of GOP foreign policy “experts” sent out at least two “open letters” excoriating Trump for his “isolationism” – the cardinal sin, according to neoconservative orthodoxy. This was the core of the Republican “Never Trump” faction’s complaint. And the Clintonites added their voices to this chorus, gladly welcoming the neoconservatives into their ranks.

Yet the common assumption is that ordinary voters – precisely the sort of voters who turned out for Trump – don’t care about foreign policy, presumably because they’re too parochial and ignorant to even have the faintest inkling of anything that goes on beyond their immediate ken.

This, of course, is one big reason why the media, the pollsters, and the pundits missed the biggest story of the last half century: they just didn’t get that Trump’s campaign against globalism meant a repudiation of America’s role as the world’s policeman – and that Trump’s supporters, after a decade and a half of constant warfare, fully understood and agreed with his “isolationism.”

How many young people, born in the devastated towns and cities of the Rust Belt and the rural Midwest communities where Trumpism triumphed, have come back home from foreign wars minus a leg, an arm, or in a body bag? The media missed this aspect of the election for the simple reason that it isn’t their sons and daughters who go off to fight and die for the hubristic dreams of Beltway policy wonks.

During the GOP presidential primaries, when a smirking John Dickerson asked Trump if he still thought George W. Bush should’ve been impeached over his launching of the Iraq war, this exchange followed:

“George Bush made a mistake. We can make mistakes. But that one was a beauty. We should have never been in Iraq. We have destabilized the Middle East.

DICKERSON: “But so I’m going to – so you still think he should be impeached?

TRUMP: “You do whatever you want. You call it whatever you want. I want to tell you. They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction, there were none. And they knew there were none. There were no weapons of mass destruction.”

The audience – made up of Lindsey Graham supporters and GOP donors – booed, but out in the American heartland the people cheered. And Trump, whose political instincts are fine-tuned, seemed to hear those distant cheers as he stood there, defiant, and said “Go ahead and boo.” He knew this would pay big political dividends down the road, and the payoff came when he won the GOP nomination, beating a baker’s dozen of wannabes, and finally took the prize this November.

The trade issue is but one aspect of Trump’s overarching anti-globalist vision, which encompasses a devastating critique of the “international order” that our foreign policy “wise men” have upheld since the Allies defeated the Axis powers and the cold war with the Soviet Union set in. Why are we paying for the defense of Europe when the Soviet threat has long since ceased to exist? Why are we defending the Saudis, when jihadists inspired by their Wahabist ideology are attacking us – including on September 11, 2001? Both South Korea and Japan are rich countries, whose industries are out-competing us and hollowing out the factory towns that were once the heart and soul of America: why, then, are we risking war and emptying our pockets in order to defend them from threats both real and imagined?

These are the questions Trump asked, and that gave his message resonance in Flyover County. The irony is that they used to be “left-wing” talking points, ones that Eugene McCarthy and George McGovern once raised. Today’s leftists, however, are so mired in identity politics that they don’t care one whit for the antiwar slogans of yesteryear: indeed, these same people are whinging and whining that it’s our “moral duty” to “do something” on behalf of the jihadists now besieging Syria. And it didn’t bother them in the least when Hillary Clinton revived the worst aspects of cold war liberalism and campaigned against Trump as a supposed “Russian puppet.”

Indeed, the warlike Washington policy wonks and their journalistic amen corner were eagerly anticipating the arrival of Hillary Clinton and the First Husband in the White House: they’ve been straining at the bit to intervene on behalf of our “moderate” jihadists in Syria, and they saw their chance when the media was trumpeting her imminent victory. That prospect has, thankfully, been cut short by the biggest upset in American political history – but the War Party doesn’t give up so easily.

The pressure on President Trump to compromise and even reverse his anti-interventionist instincts is already apparent and growing. And precisely because they are instincts, and not thought-out principles, the danger of this occurring is very great. The neocons are already trying to sneak into his administration, and what with the open hostility to Trump by leading “realists,” it’s almost inevitable that a sheer lack of qualified personnel will ensure that their infiltration is successful.

That’s why it’s vitally important for Trump’s supporters – the movement he created, and that he puts so much store in – to be vigilant, and make their voices heard. President Trump is facing not only opposition from the Democrats, but from the people in his own party – neoconservatives and GOP “moderates” – who abhor his foreign policy stance. They hate the very idea of “America First,” and will do anything and everything to sabotage the translation of Trump’s campaign promises into policy. The War Party is on the move, as is the so-called Deep State – the permanent national security bureaucracy with a material and ideological interest in internationalism. They are determined to derail the Trump train.

We can’t let that happen.

How can we stop them? By raising our voices, by protesting and appealing directly to the President himself – by doing what Trumpists do best, i.e. making noise, and lots of it. And by supporting this web site, which, almost alone, gave Trump a fair shake.

Let us put the new President and his enemies on notice: we are watching you. And at the first sign of a betrayal, we will come after you hammer and tongs. We will not be silenced – and we will not be fooled.

The battle to put America first is far from over: indeed, it has hardly begun. The next four years is going to be hand-to-hand combat. Let us enter the fray with no illusions.


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].