More than a few people have noted that the foreign policy vision of the Republican Party appears to have moved to the far right of the Reagan administration; thus, when the Heritage Foundation ghost writes an op-ed for Mitt Romney, the resulting cesspool is a mishmash of opinions that would have been on the far right fringe of Reagan’s national security apparatus. As the oft-cited Baron YoungSmith has argued:
It means, first and foremost, that the responsible Republican foreign policy establishment is not coming back. Mandarins like George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, and James Baker, who have all testified or written on behalf of the START treaty—calling it an integral, uncontroversial way of repairing the bipartisan arms-control legacy that sustained American foreign policy all the way up until the George W. Bush administration—are going to be dead soon (or they’ve drifted into the service of Democrats). The people who will take their place will be from a generation of superhawks, like John Bolton, Liz Cheney, and Robert Joseph, who are virulently opposed to the practice of negotiated arms control. Mitt Romney, though a moderate from Michigan, is not going to be the second coming of Gerald Ford.
I made a similar argument in a Right Web article a few weeks ago:
Many of the moderate Republicans who favored arms control and engagement with the Soviet Union are still around, but they have minimal influence on the institutional right. Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, and George Schultz have all played key roles in developing foreign policy for multiple Republican administrations. However, none have developed an extensive base within the institutional right wing, the constellation of independent organizations and foundations (including the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute) that have emerged as key players in internal Republican Party debates. This faction has, by and large, concluded that the greatest threat posed by Russian nuclear weapons is loss, theft, or accidental launch, rather than pre-emptive attack.
In contrast, the signatories to the Washington Times op-ed mentioned above all represent organizations that are part of the institutional machinery of movement conservatism.
In addition, prominent political figures have been able to promote the studies and reports produced by these groups, including for instance Sarah Palin, who despite her clear lack of knowledge on the subject tried to use that hardline rhetoric in attacking Obama’s arms control initiatives.
The influence of the institutional right wing is even more pronounced on foreign policy than domestic policy because so many major political actors (both Democrat and Republican) simply don’t care about foreign policy. I suspect that Mitt Romney actually has opinions about major issues of US domestic policy, and these opinions may even be informed by some subject area knowledge. In foreign policy this is not the case, and Heritage Foundation ideologues who would have been laughed out of the Reagan administration find themselves in command of the foreign policy statements of several major GOP presidential aspirants.
Youngsmith is right to note that the GOP moderates aren’t coming back, but it’s worth additional investigation to determine why they were so helpless in the face of the dire fanatics when it came to developing an institutional base. I suspect that at least part of the answer is personality based; Baker and Scowcroft, for example, seem to have eschewed institution building in favor of cultivating an elite consensus. For whatever reason, this strategy has failed utterly to ster the last ten years of foreign policy production in the Republican Party.