Only one man can heal Donald Trump’s rift with the neocons

As potential vice president, ultra-hawkish Marco Rubio could cool down the Republican party’s bitter enmities

14 May 2016

9:00 AM

14 May 2016

9:00 AM

 Washington, DC

A few weeks ago, I attended the 40th gala dinner of a Washington think tank called the Ethics and Public Policy Center at the St Regis Hotel, just down the street from the White House. William Kristol, editor of the neoconservative Weekly Standard and unrepentant champion of the Iraq War, was the MC and Paul Ryan, -Speaker of the House, the star guest.

Kristol began by noting that Donald Trump had referred to him in various tweets as ‘dopey’, the editor of a ‘slightly failing magazine’ and ‘very embarrassed to walk down the street’ because of his failure to endorse Trump. Kristol joked: ‘It’s been a tough two or three months of rehabilitation for me.’ After the audience finished laughing, he added: ‘This should be a Trump-free evening so that’s enough Trump.’

Actually, it wasn’t. Like a group of White Russians after the Bolshevik revolution, the assembled neocon stalwarts could not avoid the spectre of their tormenter. At my table that night, the reaction was consternation as Trump achieved a blowout victory in the New York primary. Since then he has gone on to become the presumptive nominee of the GOP.

Washington’s elite can see that Trump is tearing down the conservative house built by William F. Buckley Jr, Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Trump is a heretic against the Republican Trinitarian doctrine: low taxes, firm opposition to abortion and a militantly crusading foreign policy.

Trump often sounds like a Republican version of Bernie Sanders. He has made it clear that he would be prepared to raise taxes on the wealthy and increase the minimum wage. He isn’t really all that worried about the federal deficit, either. You can always print more money, he says. Similarly, when it comes to free trade, he blissfully parts company with those Chamber of Commerce Republicans who see it as essential to maintaining an American-led economic order.

In many ways Trump is to the left of his soon-to-be-confirmed opponent in November, Hillary Clinton. Some are even predicting that he may move to her left on healthcare. He is styling himself as a -populist rather than a conservative in the hope of appealing to white working-class voters in traditional Democratic strongholds in the Midwest and elsewhere.

And the worst part for mainstream conservatives? His strategy has a chance of working. A new Quinnipiac University poll has Trump battling head to head with Clinton in the swing states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. For Washington’s elite, the only thing worse than his earning the Republican nomination would be him -winning the presidency.

So now, almost every day, a -prominent right-wing talking head or politician announces that they will not sully their escutcheons by backing Trump. But what this elite can’t decide is what they should do now. Do they abstain and encourage others to do the same in November? Do they hold their noses and vote for Clinton? Do they find an independent party candidate? Or do they find a way of coming round to Trump so as to not lose influence if he does win?

Some have already decided to embrace the lesser evil of Hillary. Her reliably interventionist foreign policy offers a safe haven for neocons such as Max Boot, a former editor at the Wall Street Journal, and Robert Kagan, the historian and champion of American exceptionalism, whose -hawkish feathers have been ruffled by Trump’s conciliatory words about Russian president Vladimir Putin. Boot says that Trump represents a greater national security threat than the Islamic State. Kagan, depicting Trump as a Frankenstein, says: ‘The Republicans’ creation will soon be let loose on the land, leaving to others the job the party failed to carry out. For this former Republican, and perhaps for others, the only choice will be to vote for Hillary Clinton. The party cannot be saved, but the country still can be.’

Not for everyone such humble pie. Others are swallowing hard and pledging fealty to Trump. For example, ex-Texas governor Rick Perry, who once said Trump’s candidacy was a ‘cancer on conservatism and it must be clearly diagnosed, excised and discarded’, now says he would like to be his vice president. Senator John McCain, the 2008 nominee, is also coming around, deeming Trump ‘capable’ of being president. It’s pathetic to watch them bowing before the new king they so desperately tried to stop.

Still, holdouts remain. Some former Republican stalwarts are pushing for a ‘third party’ conservative candidate. Senator Ben Sasse, for instance, has announced that he will never support Trump. The popular radio host Erik Erickson wants a ‘credible candidate’ to offer an ‘exit strategy from Donald Trump’s Republican party’. Bill Kristol tried to persuade former general James Mattis to run. He also met 2012 nominee Mitt Romney this week, trying to persuade him to make a bid. Neither bit.

The neocons might be able to agree on a candidate who would appeal to elements of the party’s traditional base and let them maintain their sense of purity. But the effect would be to siphon votes away from Trump and increase Clinton’s share of the vote, so it makes little political sense.

Perhaps there is a final option for neocons such as Kristol, however. It’s that Trump reaches out to Florida senator Marco Rubio to be his vice president. Before his battering at the hands of Trump — who crowned him ‘little Marco’ — Rubio was the neocons’ finest creation. He is a foreign policy ultra-hawk who touted as his campaign slogan nothing less than a ‘new American century’. On Tuesday, Rubio indicated he would back Trump. Might Trump return the favour by making him his running mate?

A Trump-Rubio ticket would enable a Trump-neocon rapprochement. They share a mutual disdain for Clinton, and though Trump may have scorned the foreign policy legacy of George W. Bush — a policy -pretty much dictated by William Kristol and his gang — the elastic nature of his convictions suggests he would have no trouble re-inventing himself. Surrounded by a -phalanx of neocons, he could be born again as a foreign policy hawk. This might go a long way towards ending the schism created by his rise — and the neocons currently mourning his candidacy could achieve redemption.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Jacob Heilbrunn edits the National Interest, and is the author of They Knew They Were Right: the Rise of the Neocons.

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Show comments
  • Trailblazer10

    Neocons and mainstream conservatism. Open borders inflicting rape, murder, terrorism, drug gangs upon Americans. Neocon warmongering. Exporting jobs and Americans future to make billionaires even wealthier. Importing foreigners on H1B visas to replace American workers. Erasing borders and destroying national identity to create a ruling class of globalists.

    Described by Jesse Lee Peterson as
    “nefarious cabal that infests the political-scape like myiasis”

    Can’t imagine why they have been rejected by the voters.

  • davidblameron

    Go for it Donald, all the way to the White House.

  • Nuahs87

    Trump’s problem is that he actually intends on dealing with the complaints of right wing voters. He doesn’t understand that he is supposed to pay lip service to those complaints whilst carrying on with attempts to undermine the Western system of national democracies. He should consult David Cameron for tips.

    Big business and the Neocons will vote for Hilary even if he picks Rubio, so why bother?

    • Randal

      Trump’s problem is that he actually intends on dealing with the complaints of right wing voters.

      It would be very rash to assume so. More likely, he will tack to the “centre” (actually the extremist positions on particular issues such as globalism, interventionism and social liberalism that constitute elite dogma in the US sphere) to try to gain media respectability whilst trying to throw just enough bones to traditionalists to keep them around. This would be a mistake, imo, but that’s still what he will probably do, because it is what all mainstream (elite) advisers and practitioners in the politics and related media areas in the aforementioned US sphere assume is the only right way to do politics – pretty much the way it’s always been done in recent years.

      Trump is better than any of the other available candidates, but he’s not in any way a committed, honest traditionalist who can be relied upon to discard the metropolitan nonsense. The most that can be hoped for is that at least he will continue to cause some disruption to the powers that be, and open up the way for far better candidates in future. In office, the most that can be hoped for is that he might occasionally apply common sense and national interest considerations in place of the self-serving ideologies of the globalists and social liberals running all the mainstream parties in the US sphere, and at least occasionally ask the questions that are routinely ignored by the groupthink of the likes of the US “humanitarian” and US-uber-alles interventionists, or the Blairite/Cameron clique in the UK.

  • right1_left1

    William F Buckley’s major achievement was to threaten to punch Gore Vidal.
    Ronald Reagan left the USA massively in debt.
    Barry Goldwater ????

    recognises the danger of Islam and Hispanification !
    has realised that US military expenditure is at preposterous levels
    has railed against globalisation and it’s effect on what Americans call the middle class.
    has the ‘right’ attitude to Israel. ( without which one goes nowhere in USA politics.)
    has attitudes to taxation that are causing heart attacks and apoplexy.
    adding: I believe he has advocated pragmatic approaches to Russia.

    He knows something must be done and flails around advocataing, often in a vulgar way, what he thinks.
    I hope he gets elected and maintains his stance
    He cannot possibly be worse than George W.

    • ajcb

      So, like scissors beats paper, Norman Mailer beats Wm F Buckley, because didn’t he actually did punch Vidal instead of (like a sissy-Yalie) only threatening to?

      • right1_left1

        On a serious not Norman Mailer actually bit an actor whose name I forget.
        That’s Mike Tyson territory that is and really dirty pool hehehehehe

        i should have said Reagan massively increased the US federal debt.
        This is what fiscal conservatives tend to do.
        Another hehehehehehehe

        Goldwater as I recall wanted to spend everything on the military.

  • DoubleDegreeHolders4Trump

    Trump won’t be picking Rubio. It doesn’t matter if the old guard like him or not. And – he will win. Old school Republicans can pack their bags – the party is over.

  • Marketthinker

    The fact that the neocons do not own the Donald is probably the single most powerful argument to vote for him

    • Norbert

      True. And the fact that the Hillary is “neocon light” speaks against her.

      However, each of their choices of VP running mate is critical. If Donald chooses an independent like Bloomberg (who likely won’t accept), Hillary is toast. But, if he stumbles and picks a clown like Rubio, Hillary will recover.

      For her part, she should also try to grab Bloomberg or even a moderate Republican to run with her. The key thing is that mainstream politics aren’t working; that’s Donald’s strength. So, she has to “trump” him herself … or lose.

    • roystonvasey

      I think Ann Coulter would be great Vice President.

      As for the disgusting servant of Israel and Mexico, Marco Rubio, he should be flushed away.

  • ajcb

    (Where’s my comment?)

  • ajcb

    Since my first comment has disappeared, here’s another version:
    1) Neo-cons, having mistakenly believed that “hubris” was a sufficient foundation for a foreign policy, are also mistaken if they think their (really awful) record merits their being made GOP king-makers.
    2) Trump is, underneath it all, the sort of pre-Tea Party Republican neo-cons liked, only they don’t recognise him because Trump projects himself through the bullhorn of a New York Post expository style. Screaming at each other while deploying ludicrous braggadocio is what passes for “political discourse” in New York City. But, caustic style aside, Trump’s positions are often close to Bernie Sanders, as well as to Hillary (a “Goldwater Girl” in the civil rights era, don’t forget). Trump’s appeal is that he challenges the stifling pressure of Political Correctness, so that people can acknowledge what their eyes are telling them (e.g.: “Muslims hate us”, corroborated by Pew Foundation polls in those Middle Eastern countries that would allow polls). The strategy should be to identify a principled policy response, not pretend things are otherwise than they are.
    3) A question to Heilbrunn: Who (at the National Interest?) wrote Trump’s foreign policy statement, which was, among other refreshing things, not stupid about Russia?

    • Dryermartinithanyours

      Nice take. The neo-cons have brought this on the Republican Party by hijacking American power in the Middle East to very poor effect, and welding Jewish hatred of Russia to die-hard Cold War sentiments. That and the impossible pressures on society as you say imposed by the pc left for many decades.

      • trobrianders

        All astute points but Trump is an unsteady standard bearer for opposition to the neocons. The neocons are still supremely arrogant because they believe they can ride out this anomalous wave. They’re probably right.

        • Dryermartinithanyours

          C’est ca.

      • David Gordon

        I’m Jewish and I can tell you there is NO hatred of Russia in my community. On the contrary, I welcome a Trump-Putin alliance.

        • Dryermartinithanyours

          Thanks David, please accept my apologies for an unwarranted blanket statement that was completely out of order. My experience has been unduly influenced by former Jewish neo-con friends and associates who have had a highly particular viewpoint. My own published work is liberal conservative and very much argues against anti-Semitic conspiracy theories (“Three Cheers for the Ideals of Guided Capitalism”, “Wanted: A New Economic Theory” etc in the Herald). Collaboration on ‘Liberal Fascism’ was much abused by them in 2005 – 2007. No excuse for me to make blanket assumptions. Sorry for any offence to you or your family.

          • Bruce Lewis

            What a nice, gentlemanly reply! So rare here!

        • ajcb

          I think there is a bit of “granularity” here, no? I still remember Wm Safire writing in his column how Putin (yes, the KGB man!) had handed over to Natan Sharansky his KGB file, unbidden and as a goodwill gesture. Safire thought that meant we should realise what kind of character Putin was. But unfortunately Safire passed away and the herd mentality of journalists (who decided Putin was Satan, essentially) has become fully entrenched among the bien-pensant (see every cover of The Economist, Time or Newsweek, and every story by Fareed Zakaria, ToL, the Spectator, for that matter, BBC, etc). The neo-cons (rightly) hated the Communists, but have entirely failed to see how Putin distanced himself from them (fighting Primakov on behalf of free market principles, for instance). Depressing. And I hope you are right that there is a constituency that sees beyond; surely the great influx into Israel of Russians (often thoughtful and open-minded but not naïve) will have its effect. I would be surprised if that Trump-Putin constituency contained many American neo-cons.

  • trobrianders

    Trump will get an unassailable lead the day Bernie drops out. Hillary is toast and Rubio is butter.

  • thetrashheap

    Trump is the anti-neocon vote. His whole appeal is being anti-globalist.

    It would be political suicide to cosy up to them. All his attacks on Hilary have to be based on her being a wall street globalist neocon. He wants to be as dissociated with that movement as possible.

  • Vinnie

    Trump is the only one declaring no more wars and offering an olive branch to Russia and China. What’s not to like?

  • Cyril Sneer

    Rubio is a moron, a neo-con moron. I’m not even sure he’s human, more like a computer programme on a loop.

    • trobrianders

      Gordon is a moron.

    • ajcb

      Bill Kristol may be trying to recapture his glory days when he was described as “Dan Quayle’s brain” (long live the internet — I had forgotten his name and googled “stupid vice president” and it came right up). Or looking for a new head, like, say, Rubio’s, to be the brain of.

  • Marathon-Youth

    As a strong supporter of Donald Trump he needs a General or a high ranking official from our military to be vice President.
    That would effectively prevent an assassination of Trump for it would mean a General would be in line to be President.
    It would also boost the standing of our military with a Commander in Chief (Donald Trump) and a General or high ranking official
    We have had Generals to high ranking military personnel as Presidents & vice Presidents since the time of George Washington, the first President of the US who was a General before he took office.

  • trobrianders

    Globalists have been dismantling nation-state architecture. Only natural someone would pop up to defend it. Trump’ll do.

  • Davedeparis

    Trump is utterly incoherent. Rubio was the only only Republican candidate not falling over himself to adopt the absurdities of the Obama-Chomsky- Howard Zinn world view.

  • Baron

    There’s just one thing wrong with the neocon’s approach to foreign policy, America today has no guts to finish what she started, she can mess countries up, but that ain’t enough.

    Donald would be well advised to kick the neocon dreamers into the long grass, they had their day, they fugged it.

    • Kennybhoy

      First para is insightful. The second…?

      Abusus non tollit usum.

      • Baron

        What keep you, Kennybhoy?

        • Kennybhoy

          I am tired man…

  • maic

    Well the neocons described in this article are perfectly entitled to have their own opinions about Donald Trump but I suggest that they are still in shock after the success Trump has had in mobilising popular support.
    If Trump becomes President their power base and influence my be greatly reduced – Trump will not be beholden to them.
    He will also not be beholden to vested interest groups who want a payback for their previous political donations.
    Readers who follow this political saga will know that Trump has a committee (headed by Ben Carson I think) to draw up a list of possible Vice President nominees.
    In other interviews he has indicated that his Cabinet and adviser teams will be selected on merit alone.
    To me this is a very sensible approach. The Vice President must be a person of competence and integrity and perceived as a fit and proper person to take over the Presidency if circumstance demand it. After all we are all mortal.
    Trump’s other prospective appointments, when made public, will undoubtedly combat the propaganda that Trump is a loose cannon and a certain disaster for America.
    Trump is rightly not naming names at this stage but there are whispers that some current and previous Governors and Senators of proven competence are in the running to be invited to join his team.
    If Trump does this properly he will reinforce the message that he and his team are there for the American people and that they are going to work together to make things better, “to make America great again!”
    I say good on him and good luck. The American voters deserve better than the current administration.

  • StrategyKing

    Of all the voluminous pages written about Trump, this is the bizarrest article yet and it is embarrassing that the spectator has run in. Trump has destroyed the neo-cons and rendered them powerless (for now, you never know how many lives these vampires have). Why would he want to seek rapproachment with them? Jacob, you write as if having their favor is important. Um, why?

  • Central power

    I could not make heads and tails out this article. Until Trump becomes the presidential nominee, selects his running mate and outlines his policies (or lack of them) – all such articles are just pointless speculation.
    2016 Hilary Clinton against Trump
    1948 Truman against Dewey
    One can only cry.

  • Sargon the bone crusher

    Trump will win; if the GOP wishes to become irrelevant it can sulk, but he will sell win.
    Hillary, the Islamo-State-Socialist is a total monster. Ted in the US; easy to defeat.

  • Jacobi

    I warm steadily to Trump. If he is for a bit a bit of tax variation, or inflation (definitely a good thing) and also for a bit of protection here and there, as for instance the Germans are, so what?

    He might well make a reasonably good President.

    He certainly will be no worse than the alternative, that rather tired looking, increasingly stressed, visibly ageing cardboard cut-out who will probably have difficulty in remembering her lines and who she is for, such as the USA arms giants, who want the Cold War reignited and the Europeans kept under strict control, with the Turks being allowed in to the EU, and the Saudis to be still cosseted.

    Yes, she will find all that a bit difficult and Trump will do no worse and probably better!

  • EgilsSaga

    Neo-Cohens hate Trump because he threatens to put America first, and not Israel first.

    • David Gordon

      I’m voting Trump, I am NOT a neocon, and I support Israel.

    • davidblameron

      The neo-cons put Saudi Arabia first.

      • CRSM

        Israel, KSA. Two sides of the same coin.

        • davidblameron

          well they both shun a bacon buttie for breakfast for sure.

  • Esmee Phillips

    Kristol’s record of wrong prophecies about politics is awe-inspiring, yet there he is smirking in TV studios and offering his oracular opinions aboiut how and where GIs should die next.

    He epitomises ‘upward failure’.

  • Daveydaveydavey

    One vote here for Hillary Clinton, the most experienced, best qualified 2016 candidate to be our President for the next four years.

    • Trailblazer10

      When they realise she will lose to Trump, they may dump her and run someone else. That assumes Trump manages to stay alive. Mass violent demonstrations are likely as the marxist groups ramp it up.

    • The Reincarnated Sausage

      Granny Mao?

      She’s a crook and a swindler and America knows it.

      She should be in jail, not running America

    • davidblameron

      Is she the best the Democratic Party can do? She’s nearly 70 and will be exhausted before her first term is up.

  • The Reincarnated Sausage

    Trump will crush Hillary

    I suspect she will retire on “indefinite leave” for health reasons to save her the humiliation of the drubbing she is going to get

  • davidblameron

    Trump is the nemesis of the globalist neo-cons, that’s why he’s getting so much mud flung at him. Go for it Donald.

    • ossettian

      I wish that was the case.

      I think the hatred is more motivated by the fact that he doesn’t owe them anything as individuals.

      • davidblameron

        They could never ‘mold’ him, he is one (rare) individual who cannot be hence the’re trying to stop him.

  • Polly Radical

    If Hitler had lived until 1955, he’d have been younger than Hillary is today.

    • ossettian

      I’m more concerned about the fact that she’s a moral imbecile who is corrupt in every possible way.

      • Polly Radical

        Look at the eyes. Similar?

    • davidblameron

      So what’s that got to do with anything? He was barely 44 when he seized power.

    • He’d also be a better human being than Hillary is today, which tells you just how horrid she is.
      Everybody Loves Donald

  • SeaNote

    Given that Trump is definitely neither a conservative nor a “republican”, what does it say about the GOP that he is their nominee for the Presidency? It says everything.

    • Sean L

      Well he wants to build walls, and keep out other undesirables by whatever means; add to that his anti-globalisation stance, putting his own country first, and that’s as conservative as any Western politician has sounded for decades. He makes Farage sound quite wet. Though it’s not easy for Nigel given the leftist bias in our public discourse.

      • “…add to that his anti-globalisation stance,…” doesn’t fit with “…putting his own country first,…”

    • JabbaTheCat

      I wasn’t aware the GOP convention has been moved forward and the vote taken?

  • SeaNote

    Rubio is more of a goose than a hawk.

    • …and Trump is a Turkey.

      • Sargon the bone crusher

        He is a resplendent PEACOCK!!!

        • He certainly thinks he is.

        • JabbaTheCat

          Roasted peacock is very tasty…

  • El Pochito

    Rubio? Ha! He’d look like Trump’s eunuch

  • President Trump has explicitly stated that Marco Rubio is not being considered as his running mate.
    Everybody Loves Donald

    • Cyril Sneer

      Thank god.

  • Lou Coatney

    A – maybe *the* – significant part of Trump’s popularity with American( voter)s, is that he is NOT neocon and can lead us out of strategically and economically DISASTROUS neocon wars and war crimes.

    Moreover, having a neocon as his vice president might mean he could have a fatal plane crash if he didn’t tow their militarist line, once in office.

    So my thanks to … Jacob Heilbronn … for confirming here that Donald Trump is *not* neocon, and my thanks to Donald Trump for not being so. 🙂

    Neocon(servative)s are NOT, by the way, conservatives.

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