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Heritage Lost… This Time

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While I would like to believe the argument made here by Max Bergman, I’m afraid I’m a good deal less optimistic regarding the influence of Heritage:

The hard right Heritage Foundation, one of the pillars of the conservative movement, made defeating START one of its top institutional priorities. Yet 13 Republican Senators ended up bucking Heritage and voted to ratify the START treaty. Heritage ended up so far to the right that it was unable to convince any significant number of Republicans to follow its nonsensical substantive attack on START that the treaty would lead to massive nuclear proliferation and eventually to a nuclear war…

Yet despite all this effort, a quarter of the Republican caucus bucked Heritage’s advocacy campaign and its lobbying efforts to support the treaty. As the facts came out and it became increasingly clear that none of their anti-treaty arguments held any water, Republicans increasingly relied on process complaints to oppose the treaty, rather than substance. In the end, few Senators, with the exception of Jim DeMint, really embraced the Heritage line. The pressure they exerted on Republican members was in the end outdone by the coalition of progressive groups that pressed to ratify the treaty.

There are two issues worth revisiting.  The first is that conservative Republican opposition to arms control isn’t something particularly new or unusual. Right wing Republicans denounced Reagan, after all, for pursuing arms control with the Soviet Union.  The split within the Reagan administration is very similar to the split in the contemporary GOP, except that opponents of arms control have probably grown stronger since the 1980s.  A notional President McCain may have pushed for New START, and if he had pushed would probably have gotten more than 71 votes, but “we need to deny Obama a victory” isn’t the only motivation for Republicans on this issue.

The second is that the arms control opponents appear to be winning the battle within the GOP.  The New START debate over the last month has been held largely under the assumption that the treaty would die if it wasn’t ratified during the lame duck session.  I suspect that this assumption is accurate.  Moreover, the two most important potential GOP presidential candidates have “authored” op-eds that are essentially collections of Heritage Foundation talking points.  Finally, the GOPsters who supported the treaty are mostly (although not all) old and outside of the GOP mainstream.

I’m afraid that I have to concur with Mary Beth Sheridan’s account; Heritage failed, but demonstrated its strength within the GOP caucus. The anti-arms control faction of the GOP was much more careful and serious about developing a network of institutional support than the pro-arms control faction, and at this point the latter is on life support.

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