Typically, Republican presidential candidates court evangelicals by talking about their faith or socially conservative issues like abortion and others. While that still is happening today, the war in Ukraine has sort of flipped the GOP script. It has now become a litmus test.
Candidates who take a more hawkish viewpoint have become the minority this time around. Just ask former Vice President Mike Pence, who faced tough questions from Tucker Carlson at a recent evangelical forum in Iowa.
“You are distressed that the Ukrainians don’t have enough American tanks,” Carlson incredulously asked. “Every city in the United States has become much worse over the past three years. Drive around. There’s not one city that’s gotten better and it’s visible. Our economy has degraded, the suicide rate has jumped, public filth and disorder and crime have exponentially increased, and yet your concern is that the Ukrainians, a country most people can’t find on a map, don’t have enough tanks?
I think it’s a fair question to ask. Where’s the concern for the United States in that?” Pence shot back. “I’ve heard that routine from you before, but that’s not my concern. Anybody that says that we can’t be the leader of the free world and solve our problems at home has a pretty small view of the greatest nation on earth. We can do both.”
It’s a subject that’s clearly not going away and will force some soul-searching among certain candidates. Not only did Carlson reflect the changing Republican base, Pence, once an evangelical hero, heard boos and received no applause. He, along with GOP presidential contenders Tim Scott and Nikki Haley represent a more traditional neo-conservative approach, something Haley addressed in an interview with CBN News a few months ago.
“Russia is not going to stop at Ukraine,” Haley said. “They’re going to go into Poland into the Baltics, and we’ve got a world war on our hands. We have to make sure we send a message to every enemy that if you mess with our friends, you’re messing with us and you don’t want to do that.”
Those views follow the Ronald Reagan model in terms of embracing a robust overseas strategy in order to protect America. Reagan warned about isolationism decades ago.
“We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars. It is better to be here ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We’ve learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent,” Reagan noted.
That interventionist mindset continued through 9/11 with tough talk by former President George W. Bush against countries like Iraq, Iran, and North Korea in what was dubbed his “Axis of Evil” speech.
“States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world,” Bush said.
Back in those days, Americans saw both the invasion of Iraq and the start of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan. In 2001, 96% of Republicans supported the war in Afghanistan. But how times have changed. Twenty years later, just 43% of Republicans saw that as a war worth fighting, signaling a growing move toward isolationism.
After 9/11, 23 percent of Americans wanted less foreign involvement. Today, that number is at 30 percent. and within the GOP, it’s a whopping 71 percent that want the U.S. to focus on problems at home rather than overseas.
When Donald Trump entered the picture with his America First agenda in 2015, the GOP base joined the move against foreign intervention. That has resulted in a new guard of presidential candidates joining Trump including Ron DeSantis and political newcomer Vivek Ramaswamy.
“I don’t believe in beating around the bush on this,” Ramaswamy told CBN News back in February. “I don’t think we should be spending more money in Ukraine. The top job of the U.S. military, who would have ever thought, is to protect U.S. soil.”
It’s that prevailing opinion that has thrown a wrench into politics as usual inside the Republican Party.