The Curious Case of the Neoconservative Revival

In recent days, the Hillary Clinton campaign has sought to reach out to Independents and Republicans to build an anti-Trump coalition that reaches across party lines. It strategically makes sense. Polling suggest she has Democrats secured—and any holdouts that haven’t been swayed yet aren’t all that likely to come around in the next 3 months. At this point, stay-at-homes on the left can have their 5%, Stein her 3%, Johnson his 1%, Trump his 1%. Hillary will happily take the roughly remaining 90% of the Democratic vote—it’s a unified number and one that’ll all but certainly exceed Trump’s share of the Republican vote.

But Hillary still has 3 months of a campaign to run, and her objective is to accrue votes. Naturally, with Dems in line, the strategy ought to be to reach out to Independents and Republicans. You let Michael Bloomberg speak at your convention. You welcome Republican endorsements. Practically the entire Bush administration has thrown their support behind Clinton, a statement I thought I would never write in my lifetime, but that is where we are and if your objective is to build the biggest tent possible you don’t turn anyone away.

Poll numbers are skyrocketing. Much of it has been self-inflicted on Trump’s part in the past couple weeks, but Clinton’s outreach to purple and red leaders and constituents also appears to be working.

The question that arises when this happens, and this is really one of the fundamental questions of the left, is does there come a point when the pursuit of the biggest tent compromises the morals that liberals and leftists are supposedly fighting in tandem?

The answer may be no here, even more so from a campaign’s standpoint. Candidates run to get elected. To get elected, you need the most votes. Hence, do whatever it takes to get the most votes.

Many on the left refuse to accept this notion. They’ve seen the Democratic Party as complicit in so many of the bad things that happened under the Bush administration (and to a lesser extent the Obama administration). If Democrats had shown a spine, they argue, the world would be a better place than it is now.

There’s of course validity in both of these stances. You need votes to get elected. You should also stand for something. In theory, these suppositions should go hand-in-hand, but it seems that in the Democratic primary and now in the general election they have continued to clash.

Take Palestinian rights for instance. Leftists bemoaned that the party platform adopted by the Democratic party, one that Bernie Sanders and the media reported as impressively progressive, continued to firmly back Israel and all but ignore Palestine. Any good leftist sits there and goes that’s a loss for human rights. The left of the party once again feels jipped and feels as if their taken for granted.

But from the Democratic Party’s perspective, they look at polling and see to themselves that Democratic voters still favor Israel over Palestine. From this perspective, it is not in their interest to alienate pro-Israeli Democrats, the party’s majority, if they want to win elections (the purpose of a political party). The argument can be made that this is a morally empty approach—and that is the one disillusioned people on the left make. The party’s rebuttal is that they exist to win. If you don’t like us, form your own party (and spoiler alert, you don’t have the numbers to ever beat us).

Ultimately, is the party the vehicle to change the people’s opinions or are the people the vehicle to change the party’s opinion? It’s almost always going to be the latter, the party has no reason to change until the numbers tell them it’s necessary to do so, and activists will continue to remain frustrated by this reality.

When the onus is on the people to be the vehicle to changing the party, the rallying point, it often feels like it requires organizational resources that everyday people simply lack. They’d love to have the platform of the party, but for those in the minority on issues that the left would consider to be the good fights, they don’t.

This was the beauty of Sanders. He was able to harness the party’s resources, its megaphone, to deliver a message of the people. It doesn’t happen very often, and the party would prefer not to let it happen. Someone like Sanders makes things murky, public opinion amongst Democrats could change quickly on issues, and suddenly it isn’t so easy to predict what the majority stances are on everything when you’re developing a platform.

So when all is said and done, the party will listen to the majority of its voters on the positions it should adopt. They’re also going to take swayable independents into account—another blow to the far left. Rational actors act in this manner.

But with regard to Hillary Clinton now actively courting Republicans—and with increasing regularity, foreign policy neocons—we are entering unchartered waters. Appealing to independents, fine, I don’t want a Republican in office as much as the next guy says the majority of liberals, but does having neoconservatives on your side undermine the prospect of a progressive vision?

It’s a tough question. Michael Tracy at the New York Daily News considers it a dangerous alliance. His fear is that in engaging with neoconservatives that orchestrated Iraq and George W. Bush’s other foreign policy blunders, they are given a ticket back into the realm of respectable discourse they by no means deserve. The question becomes: should we let anyone in the tent who is willing to bash Trump? Even if their own record sucks?

I suppose it comes down to polling. If tacitly accepting the approval of neocons improves the odds of a Clinton presidency, then from the standpoint that the prerogative is to win the election, you keep tacitly approving. If it hurts poll numbers, disavow them. If its effects are negligible in poll numbers, as they likely are, then the ball’s in the campaign’s court it would appear.

Emmett Rensin, formerly of Vox, highlights concerns similar to Tracy’s in a series of tweets. We don’t know the ramifications of treating neocon lunatics like credible experts, and given polling trends it is hard to argue Clinton needs support of the statistically insignificant faction of the electorate that would be drawn to Hillary because she respects the opinions of stupid Bush architects. From this vantage point, disavowing them would make sense, strategically and morally.

These developments also come on the back of a piece published by James Kirchick at the Daily Beast. In it, he accuses a selection of prominent leftists of being Trump supporters even though they aren’t. It’s shoddy journalism and its been widely denounced as such, but the roundabout premise seems to be that because a number of leftists prefer dovish foreign policy to interventionist foreign policy, they support Trump over Clinton.

It’s needless left punching, of course, but what is particularly peculiar about the piece is that a neoconservative foreign policy outlook is given the moral high ground. It’s just deliberately ahistorical in ways that would take too long to list, but I’m sure someone has written a response piece to it by now.

This resurrection from the dead of neoconservatism is one that I don’t think many could’ve predicted. Liberals across the board didn’t enjoy what it did to the world, and the Republican primary suggested conservatives were sick of being forced to cling to it as well. But, given the unique situation we find ourselves in due to the fact that Trump is not popular enough with his own party to consolidate the entire Republican vote, Clinton has been given the opportunity to court disillusioned Republicans. And, amongst the Republican elite anyway, one of the largest groups opposed to Trump are the neocons that somehow still find a way to linger around.

Hillary is by no means obligated to listen to any prominent neoconservatives once she wins the election. This could be a purely strategic move presented to her by the unique case we have where Republicans are gettable. But questions remain as to whether this could make neocons relevant again, and whether Hillary even needs them in her tent at all. If she doesn’t, cut ‘em loose.

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