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No Partying with the Tea Party


My latest at WPR concerns the exceedingly low likelihood that a Progressive-Tea Party understanding will develop on defense spending:

However, hopes for a less-hawkish Republican congressional caucus probably won’t come to fruition, for two reasons. First, budgetary concerns almost always fall victim to parochial interest. New GOP representatives will likely defend Defense Department and military industrial investment in their own districts at the expense of larger concerns about the budget deficit. The U.S. defense industry has carefully configured itself in order to maximize its congressional influence, by spreading contracts, facilities, and programs across as many states and districts as possible in order to vest interests for senators and representatives. Legislators rarely vote to kill projects that bring jobs and money to their districts, and Tea Party Republicans will feel this pressure just as much as any other elected official.

Second, the increasing prominence of a network of conservative think tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, has restructured Republican politics. Since the 1970s, these institutions, which lean very heavily in favor of an interventionist posture, have effectively sidelined the “realist” and “isolationist” factions of the Republican Party. With impressive media operations and tight connections with the GOP congressional caucus, they can provide ready-made talking points for newly elected officials, while helping to rein in wayward politicians by restricting media attention and campaign funding. This framework provides crucial socialization for representatives who have not previously thought very long or very hard about foreign policy issues. It also provides a rote party line for those with little interest in establishing foreign policy expertise, or assembling a good foreign policy staff team. If newly elected officials rely on the expertise that these institutions can provide, they will likely begin to view the world in similarly hawkish terms, regardless of their positions on domestic issues.

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