Ever since the end of World War II, interventionism has dominated America, whether it be the idealist school of thought (promoting less military engagements, and more international organizations) or the Realpolitik idea (America should protect its interests abroad with military and diplomatic force.) In the past decade, the voters’ opinions have changed drastically. With the enormous amounts of blood and money spent fighting the Global War on Terror, including the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, public opinion has turned in another direction.
In both the Democratic and Republican parties, isolationism is coming back into style. Isolationism, the idea that America should not intervene outside of its backyard (that being Latin America), was discredited after the rise of Fascism and Communism in the 1930s and 1940s. With millennials mostly disapproving of foreign adventures, the change in Democrats comes as little surprise. On the other hand, the rise of Trump and his brand of militant isolationism in the GOP, the primary proponent of the Global War on Terror is surprising to many.
The composition of the modern GOP makes this coup more clear. The business-minded suburbians who have dominated the party since the dawn of the 20th century long embraced free trade and asserted America’s power abroad. However, ever since the Republican party implemented the Southern Strategy to win over disaffected southern whites and religious right voters, the party has shifted to a more working class and rural foundation. This culminated with the rise of the Tea Party and its encouragement from the traditional corporate donors of the GOP. This came back to bite them after 2008 and 2012 when the base of the party demanded change.
The voice of this movement was fragmented at first, with people such as Gov. Chris Christie representing many blue collar workers, Sen. Ted Cruz representing the rural evangelicals and Sen. Rand Paul representing those upset with foreign involvements in the Middle East. It was Donald Trump who united these voices, built an anti-establishment coalition and defeated the party in its own primary. The base of the GOP was tired of the hundreds of billions spent in Iraq that ended with ISIS taking control, the left wing-ness of the American allies in Europe and the outsourcing of jobs to Asia and Latin America. Trump harnessed their anger and exhaustion to destroy the interventionist consensus that had dominated American presidential politics since 1940.
With the presumptive nominee of a major party largely committed to isolationism, the course of America’s foreign policy is not so predictable. Will America, when confronted with a third option against the two they have had for over 70 years, opt for it or return to the status quo? If one thing can be said about this election, it is that it is unpredictable.