In his sledgehammer assault against the cornerstone institutions of the Western alliance, Donald Trump is replaying one of the defining confrontations in the Republican Party’s history. Only this time, the outcome is being reversed—with potentially tumultuous implications for both the GOP and the future of American foreign policy.
Trump is reprising the conflict between the Republican Party’s internationalist and isolationist wings, which raged between the end of World War I and the early Cold War. That extended scuffle crystallized in the battle for the party’s 1952 presidential nomination, when Dwight Eisenhower, the hero of the internationalist forces, beat Senate Republican Leader Robert Taft, who championed an earlier generation of “America First” nationalism and isolationism.
Eisenhower’s victory seemed to irreversibly settle the GOP’s direction. Every Republican president for the next five decades followed Eisenhower’s lead in pursuing a vigorous role for the U.S. in leading a robust international system of military, economic, and diplomatic alliances.
But cracks appeared in that Republican consensus under George W. Bush, both because of disillusion with the Iraq War and because of the party’s growing reliance on working-class whites, who are often dubious of any foreign entanglement. Now, President Trump is moving to virtually raze the structure of the U.S-led international order, with his open disdain for the alliances and economic relationships built after World War II.
As on so many fronts, the portions of the GOP resistant to Trump’s insular vision have managed barely a peep in protest. In the rematch between the ideological descendants of Eisenhower and Taft, only one side is in the ring. “For now, Taft beats Ike—that’s your headline,” said Geoffrey Kabaservice, the author of Rule and Ruin, a history of the modern struggles between moderate and conservative Republicans. “Trump is closer to Taft than he is to Eisenhower, and he has reshaped the party in his image. The forces of Eisenhower and the East Coast internationalist establishment is back on their heels at this point.”
This struggle over the GOP’s foreign-policy direction both echoes and reconfigures the earlier conflict. Then, as now, the GOP’s isolationist elements were dubious of international engagement in all three of its principal forms: military and diplomatic alliance, free trade, and openness to immigration.
The struggle’s most heated confrontations came over international security alliances. Isolationists resisted U.S. involvement in World War II and fumed as internationalists Wendell Willkie and Tom Dewey repeatedly topped Taft for the GOP presidential nominations through the 1940s. …read more
Source:: The Atlantic – Best of