It’s a question I’m frequently asked these days. I’m far from an expert on the Tea Party. Accordingly, my answer is limited to stating that there is a division among Tea Party members, with some tending towards an interventionist position and others tending towards isolationism. I avoid opining on what the breakdown is.
One way to get at the question is to look at the positions taken by prominent Tea Party candidates in this year’s election. Scott Conroy of Real Clear Politics has undertaken that analysis. He finds the same division that I posited exists within the rank-and-file.
Marco Rubio’s views could probably be described as neo-conservative. He strongly backs our military action in Afghanistan and speaks favorably about efforts to help democracy take root in Iraq. Sharron Angle expressed similar views on her campaign website during the primary season, although she wisely is less inclined to talk about these issues as the campaign reaches its climax.
At the other end of the spectrum is, of course, Rand Paul. He doesn’t talk much about foreign policy either, but the best evidence is that his views don’t diverge sharply from those of his father. (For that reason, Conroy notes, Dick Cheney and Rudy Giuliani endorsed Paul’s opponent in the primary). For example, Paul’s campaign website calls lack of effective border security “our greatest national security threat.” By contrast, Angle has said that the global war on terror is the central challenge of our time.
Other high profile Tea Party candidates fall at various points between Rubio-Angle on the one hand and Paul on the other. Thus, Joe Miller has supported U.S. military intervention (including in Iraq) but for the purpose of attacking terrorists, not promoting democracy. And Ken Buck thinks we need an exit strategy in Afghanistan.
As for the views of the rank-and-file, today I came across a poll taken by Politico, in conjunction with a leading exit-polling firm, of attendees at a Tea Party rally in Washington DC this in April. The poll didn’t provide respondents with many opportunities to opine about foreign policy and national security issues; nor, in the few opportunities they were given did respondents seem to have these issues much on their minds.
However, Ron Paul commanded a following. He finished second in the “straw” presidential vote, with 14 percent, just behind Sarah Palin and just ahead of Mitt Romney. Paul fared less well when respondents were asked whether they would support his candidacy. 38 percent said yes; 59 percent said no. This was a worse showing than New Gingrich, Romney, Palin, and Jim DeMint, but better than the likes of Mike Huckabee and Tim Pawlenty.
It looks, then, like there is an isolationist strand within the Tea Party movement, and perhaps a weaker neo-conservative one, but that that the Tea Party mainstream wants the U.S. to be engaged in the world without attending much to the internal affairs of other countries. This, I think, is also the mainstream view of Americans in general.
Foreign policy is one of several issues over which the Tea Party movement could easily fracture in the next few years.
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