In my latest column for the American Conservative, I argue that there is some reason to hope the new Tea Party senators will be more serious about spending than the conservative congressional leaders before them:
South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint voted against the Medicare prescription drug benefit and No Child Left Behind while in the House, defying the Bush administration and the GOP congressional leadership. So did Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican running to join DeMint in the Senate. They are social conservatives, but see the national debt as the paramount moral issue.
Cruz lacks their legislative voting record, but it is nonetheless intriguing that he wrote his senior thesis at Princeton on the Ninth and Tenth Amendments—two neglected parts of the Bill of Rights that are the key to reasserting limits on the federal leviathan. Mike Lee wrote a book straightforwardly arguing that most post-New Deal federal programs, including the big entitlements, are effectively unconstitutional. Rand Paul is both the literal and figurative son of the most successful libertarian politician in modern times.
Moreover, as senators they will have clout that House backbenchers — and even many House leaders — never had. Daniel Larison objects that other than Rand Paul they are all foreign policy hawks. I’ll acknowledge that none of them is Ron Paul. Even Rand isn’t a carbon copy (few of them would have won their primaries if they weren’t closer to the Republican foreign policy consensus than Paul).
But Marco Rubio didn’t run on a platform that included getting out of Afghanistan, abolishing the TSA, and opposing the NDAA while appearing with Ron Paul. Ted Cruz did. In an interview with me, Mike Lee criticized the Libya war on substantive as well as constitutional grounds and didn’t sound too enthusiastic about our other recent wars. Although Jim DeMint voted for the Iraq war, he was also one of just four Senate Republicans who voted to end its authorization.
Admittedly, Rand Paul is the only one I’d more or less guarantee would vote against war with Iran unless there was a much stronger casus belli than there was with Iraq. yet my larger point was that these senators would be more reliable than past Republican leaders when it came to limiting the domestic functions of the federal government. Whether they apply those lessons to government abroad remains to be seen.
UPDATE: Larison responds again. Look, these candidates aren’t noninterventionists (although a few of them, like Thomas Massie and Kerry Bentivolio, essentially are). But in the not-too-distant past, the most conservative candidates running in a Republican primary would have been without fail the most enthusiastic champions of the Bush Doctrine and dead-enders in support of unpopular foreign wars. The fact that these candidates don’t fit that description doesn’t necessarily mean they will be cautious on Iran, but it does mean something. Changing the incentives politicians face is often more important than even changing the politicians.