Political Animal


May 01, 2013 10:22 AM Last Best Hope For the Neocons?

By Ed Kilgore

A while back I did a post focusing on U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who had in turn been profiled by Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen of Politico as an exemplar of the obstructionist nature of the House GOP. Since then Cotton has gotten a lot of attention as a potential 2014 opponent of U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, generally considered the most vulnerable Senate Democrat thanks to the heavy redward swing of his state in the last few years.

But today we learn from a different Politico writer, Alexander Burns, that Cotton isn’t just a freshman House member who may become a freshman Senator before terribly long: he may be, in fact, the “last, best hope of GOP hawks” in a national political party increasingly inclined to “stand with Rand” against indiscriminate military interventions.

To the community of policymakers and elected officials who care passionately — and even exclusively — about a forward-leaning American national security posture, there is no Republican under the age of 40 with more riding on his career than Cotton.

Cotton has been the beneficiary of a steady campaign of promotion by neocon beacon The Weekly Standard and its editor, William Kristol. Here’s how Slate’s Dave Weigel summed it up in March:

Throughout the 2012 campaign, while everybody was scoffing at Kristol’s pleas for Paul Ryan or Mitch Daniels to run for president, TWS was picking Cotton. There were updates on his quarterly fundraising halls, news of his endorsements, previews of his campaign ads (“I Had to Do My Part”), even news that he’d signed an “Obamacare Repeal Pledge” and his opponent (backed by Mike Huckabee) hadn’t. All told the magazine ran 20 items about Cotton before the election, culminating in a profile by Fred Barnes that was best read while listening to John Phillip Sousa and cooling an apple pie. “Assuming Cotton is elected on November 6,” wrote Barnes, “he’ll face a big decision on whether to run for the Senate in 2014.”
After an election that didn’t produce many buzzworthy new Republicans, Cotton became a Sunday show presence and a loud voice of opposition to Chuck Hagel’s nomination—which was sort of a TWS cause celebre.

To round it all out, WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin reported on an interview with Cotton last December that drifted into hagiography:

He is 6-foot-5 and rail-thin. His erect posture reveals his military training. However, freshman congressman-elect Tom Cotton is not simply physically striking; in experience and depth, he is unlike most of his soon-to-be-colleagues. The 35-year-old Arkansan graduated from Harvard and Harvard Law School, clerked for an appellate judge and practiced law. Then he volunteered as an infantryman in the U.S. Army, serving five years in active duty, starting with Iraq where he led a platoon in the 101st Airborne Division. After Iraq he served as platoon leader at Arlington National Cemetery, conducting military honors for funerals. He then volunteered for duty in Afghanistan. He has been repeatedly decorated. He also racked up time as a management consultant for McKinsey and Co. Oh, and he worked on his family farm.
He is a fresh face in Washington, but he is a familiar figure to many conservatives immersed in foreign policy. He has been attending and speaking at national security symposiums for several years now.

According to Burns, even congressional warhorses like John McCain and his sidekick Lindsey Graham are scrawling Cotton’s name on their notebooks.

Aside from the queasy “he’s a dreamboat!” aspects of this early adulation of a freshman House member, and his espousal of positions not exactly designed to appeal to a general electorate (he’s called the Iraq War a “just and noble war,” and seems to think the Great Recession was a fine moral tonic for a sinful nation), what’s most interesting about all this hyping of Cotton is its reflection on the confidence level of Republican hawks and their neocon vanguard. Not that very long ago, Mitt Romney launched his presidential campaign with an entire book designed to position him on foreign policy as far to the right as possible. The ensuing 2012 Republican presidential nomination contest occasionally seemed to become a competition (with Ron Paul serving as the foil) to see which candidate was most convincingly frothing for war with Iran.

Yet here we are just a few months into 2013, and neocons seem to be staking their future on a 35-year old House freshman.

Has the GOP really changed so much so fast? I admit to some serious skepticism, because we’ve seen this movie before. Most conservatives attacked Bill Clinton as a warmonger for intervening in Kosovo, and during the 2000 presidential contest, George W. Bush was calling for a foreign policy based on greater “humility.” We saw how long that lasted. There’s every reason to assume that most of the non-interventionist strain in Republican rhetoric recently is a product of opposing whatever Barack Obama proposes, and that the next Republican president—unless his name is Rand Paul, who has himself taken a different tack than his father in talking about military interventions—will return to the GOP’s heritage as champions of the military-industrial complex.

Still, the panic in neocon circles exhibited in Burns’ profile of Cotton can’t all be contrived. Maybe Cotton’s just an ideal GI Joe figure that war enthusiasts are playing with before designating a better-known figure like Marco Rubio—who has his own strong neocon connections—as The Man for 2016. In the meantime, if Cotton does run against Pryor, expect him to get at least as much attention as Rubio received when he ran for the Senate in 2010.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on May 01, 2013 10:41 AM:

    If people consider "Wrong Way" Kristol a beacon of some sort or other, they must also confuse candles with searchlights.

    But you can't really blame the Neocons for trying to drum-up some new guy or gal - all of their old ones are in hiding on FOX, fearful that an appearance anywhere else will result in some serious endless ridicule and mockery.

    Oh, and btw - I'm starting to have some serious doubts about our Ivy League schools, if they produce nuts like this one, and the legion of other loons who were foisted on the pubic, with the assurance, "Hey, s/he's really smart! Gradeeated frum Haaaaaaavad, don'tchaknow?"

  • Ronald on May 01, 2013 10:49 AM:

    totally agree with c u n d's point about 'Ivy League' schools...whole bunches of total idiots seem to be able to buy themselves degrees from these institutions...

    Ahh, to be wealthy enough to buy your own credentials like that...

    Anyway- this guy is yet another in a very long line of 'last great white hopes' for the Republican party and the gabbers who are desperate for something...anything...that can compete in 2016.

    HRC for the win. :D

  • Mimikatz on May 01, 2013 10:50 AM:

    I doubt this is going to appeal to many folks. The default mechanism for conservatives is isolationism, unless they can be dragooned into a holy war. Communism doesn't work as a bogeyman (North Korea), and after Iraq and Afghanistan even Iran and Islamic extremism are not what they used to be. With 90% of the country sliding downward towards the middle middle class or even out of the middle class, surely there can't be much enthusiasm for foreign adventures.

    I think it speaks ( like Ted Cruz) to the paucity of GOP candidates willing to run nationally as opposed to their own cocoon state or district.

  • biggerbox on May 01, 2013 11:16 AM:

    As an alum of one of those Ivy League schools, I can assure you that graduation is not a sign of intelligence or the ability to reason, so much as it is a demonstration of ability to navigate 'the system', which often involves connections or money, more than intellectual wattage.

    The hyping of Cotton strikes me as nothing more than the continuing search of the authoritarian right for their strongman. So many of those guys seem to be longing for a daddy to tell them what to do, (especially if it means blowing stuff up real good and killing a-rabs.)

  • Rick B on May 01, 2013 11:20 AM:

    The Ivy League schools aren't so much about what you learn as they are about who you meet. They are a social marker of membership in the upper class in America.

  • Anonymous on May 01, 2013 11:24 AM:

    With 90% of the country sliding downward towards the middle middle class or even out of the middle class, surely there can't be much enthusiasm for foreign adventures.

    But of course, making people poor is a superior way to recruit for an all 'volunteer' military.

  • boatboy_srq on May 01, 2013 12:03 PM:

    “last, best hope of GOP hawks”

    Seems these days a "GOP hawk" is someone who wonders why we're not nuking every Other country already and letting Gawd sort out who's Worthy amongst the ashes.

    I'm more worried every day that Cotton and Cruz are indeed keepers of the new GOTea soul.

    @CUND: The GOTea is in No True Scotsman mode when it comes to Conservatists. You can't be a grown-up and still be part of the Teahad clique: for the Teahad there is no such thing as nuance (look what happened to Perry), and for the adults the blatant wingnuttery quickly Palins in the sunshine. None of the recent generation has proven adequate on the national stage: the human ones aren't rabid enough, and the rabid ones aren't human enough.

  • kindness on May 01, 2013 12:11 PM:

    Why do you keep using Politico as a reference link? Are you not aware that Politico is Drudge made to look presentable, but still Drudge?

    Linking to Politico is only acceptable if the article in question is mocking Politico. Otherwise it taints you.