How principled is Beltway Republican opposition to Donald Trump?
Last Friday, the world listened to Donald Trump’s offensive comments from a 2005 conversation. This horrible tape drove many Republicans to denounce him and many of them refused to support his campaign any longer.
Liberal columnist Frank Bruni correctly points out the opportunism of these Republicans who jumped ship so late in the campaign: “His revolting words enabled Republicans who were increasingly certain of his defeat in the presidential election and were itching for an exit route to wrap themselves in moral outrage as they skittered to one.”
I respect the people who oppose Trump out of principle. I have no respect for people who will oppose Trump for personal gain.
Long before this tape, many prominent Republicans supported Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. They took personal offense to things Trump said, but are blasé about FBI Director Comey’s finding that Hillary Clinton was “extremely careless” with classified information.
This cavalier approach to classified material is disconcerting to those of us who care about national security. And since, in diplomacy, sometimes people’s motives differ from their words, I thought it useful to create a test.
Some say they oppose Trump based on policy disagreements; others know a Trump victory ends their privileged positions in the party. To discern when someone is speaking entirely for the good of the country rather than for their own self-interest, I propose a three-pronged test. This test determines fairly if endorsements by Republicans for Hillary are based on principle, personal gain, or both.
Let’s call this the Robert Kagan Test.
1. Is the endorsement based on material in the endorser’s area of expertise?
Dr. Robert Kagan is a prominent foreign policy writer. In his twenties, Kagan wrote speeches for Secretary George Shultz as a State Department policy planning staffer. Republicans he has advised on foreign affairs include Jack Kemp, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. He is the author of five books on foreign policy, including the best-seller The World America Made.
In 1997, he was one of 25 founders recruited by Bill Kristol to form the neoconservative Project for a New American Century (PNAC), 40 percent of whom later served in the George W. Bush administration. PNAC urged President Clinton and the Republicans in Congress to support regime change in Iraq; and in October 1998, Congress passed and Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, making regime change official U.S. policy.
On September 20, 2001, Robert Kagan and a group of PNAC signatories urged President Bush to attack Iraq. Immediately after calling for the capture or death of Osama bin Laden, they stated:
It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism.
Kagan’s passionate support of the war in Iraq explains why he prefers Hillary Clinton (who voted for the war) over Donald Trump. Kagan knows it is highly unlikely that Trump will listen to his views of regime change and nation building.
Assessment: By supporting Hillary Clinton based on a policy point within his area of expertise (her support of the Iraq War and Trump’s opposition), Robert Kagan passes the first prong of the test.
2. Is the endorsement based on articulable high-minded principles?
Robert Kagan has shown that he will not support the Party when Republicans disagree with his interventionist views. His strong opposition to Colin Powell in 2000 is a case in point:
He [Powell] doesn’t believe the United States should enter conflicts without strong public support, but he also doesn’t believe the public will support anything. That kind of logic rules out almost every conceivable post-Cold War intervention.
In 2000, Kagan critiqued Powell like a gentleman; with polished and precise arguments based on policy. Kagan’s recent attacks on the Republican Party and Trump are very different.
In February 2016, Kagan slashes the Republican Party, as well as Trump personally, in his regular Washington Post column: “A plague has descended on the party in the form of the most successful demagogue-charlatan in the history of U.S. politics.”
Kagan says wage stagnation fails to explain why so many voters support Trump. He blames Trump’s success on “the [Republican] party’s accommodation to, and exploitation of, the bigotry in its ranks.”
In Kagan’s view: “What did Trump do but … tap the well-primed gusher of popular anger, xenophobia and, yes, bigotry that the party had already unleashed?”
Kagan concludes, “For this former Republican, and perhaps for others, the only choice will be to vote for Hillary Clinton. The party cannot be saved, but the country still can be.”
Kagan uses his WaPo forum in May to argue Republican support for Donald Trump would bring fascism to the United States: “The Republican Party’s attempt to treat Donald Trump as a normal political candidate would be laughable were it not so perilous to the republic.”
Just a few days ago, Kagan wrote that the Republicans are “unfit to lead the country.” He argues, “It has abandoned its principles out of a combination of cowardice and opportunism. It has worked to place in the White House the most dangerous threat to U.S. democracy since the Civil War.”
Kagan hopes that the voters “will look away from those who self-servingly tried to foist Trump on the nation and will turn instead to the handful of Republican officeholders who had the courage of their convictions and tried to stop him from the beginning.”
Assessment: The Kagan disagreement with Powell was high minded and based on principle. Kagan’s attack on the Republican Party through Trump is lowbrow and polemical. He fails on prong two.
3. Is the endorsement free of even the appearance of financial considerations?
Kagan’s wife, Victoria Nuland, currently works in the State Department as the Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs; putting her in charge of implementing Obama’s foreign policy for Western Europe and Russia. Since Hillary is running for a third term of the Obama administration, Robert Kagan should regularly disclose in his columns and interviews that his wife worked for Secretary Clinton and still works for the President.
Kagan’s wife is more likely to advance in the State Department if Hillary Clinton wins in November. Kagan is unlikely to keep his position on the Foreign Affairs Policy Board at the State Department should Clinton lose, a position that gives him standing to write his column.
Mr. Trump has made the Obama-Clinton Administration’s failed Benghazi policy a central part of his campaign. For this reason, Nuland had no chance of serving in a Trump administration even before Kagan denounced Trump in his columns.
Nuland was complicit in trying to withhold information about the prior attacks on Benghazi targets from Congress and the American people.
In 2012, Nuland wrote e-mails, on behalf of the State Department, asking the CIA to edit out any references to either Ansar al-Sharia, or warnings of terrorist attacks, in the widely discredited “Benghazi Talking Points” Susan Rice used following the terrorist attack on our consulate.
Nuland specifically objected to a paragraph drafted by the CIA:
The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al-Qaida in Benghazi and eastern Libya. These noted that, since April, there have been at least five other attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi by unidentified assailants, including the June attack against the British Ambassador’s convoy. We cannot rule out the individuals has previously surveilled the U.S. facilities, also contributing to the efficacy of the attacks.
Nuland stated that the above paragraph “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings, so why would we want to feed that either?”
Nuland was an astute political advocate for the Obama-Clinton administration. Had that paragraph been included in the Talking Points, the 2012 election might have gone differently, damaging her status in Washington and her financial future.
The CIA later erased the offending paragraph from the final Obama-Clinton version.
In light of the disclosure of this previously hidden information, it is reasonable to question if Kagan is concerned about his wife’s future employment prospects (and his own) when he writes that “many Republicans have fallen back on mindless Islamophobia, with suspicious intimations about the president’s personal allegiances.”
Washington is filled with amoral power couples who play both sides of the fence. Kagan’s wife’s advancement within the Bush State Department may have been based on her husband’s extensive Republican contacts. In a Clinton Administration, the Kagans are each likely to have high-paying jobs, especially since Kagan used his column to denounce Trump and the Republican Party. It could give them a chance to have strong say in our nation’s foreign policy. Their job prospects in a Trump Administration are nil.
Assessment: Robert Kagan fails the third test, as there is at least an appearance of financial advantage in a Clinton victory. His non-disclosure to the public of his wife’s involvement with the Obama-Clinton team indicates that he knows his family’s financial future is at risk with a Trump Administration. His finances in a Clinton Administration are likely to be boosted.
Robert Kagan fails two of the three prongs of the Robert Kagan test. His endorsement is not based on articulable high-minded principles. His endorsement is not free of even the appearance of seeking financial gain.
And, being fair-minded people, Republicans should give him an out: if Kagan and his wife will publicly recuse themselves from taking any jobs in a Hillary Clinton administration, I will accept that his opposition to the Republican Party and its standard bearer is not based on seeking financial advantage.
From now on, every pro-Hillary, Trump-slashing Republican should be given the Robert Kagan test. Those wishing to pass muster with the American people should promise that they too will not accept a job in a future Clinton administration.
If Republicans allow this sort of treachery to go unchallenged, it will only encourage other turncoats in the future to act similarly.
Michael Vadon/Creative Commons