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  • George Miles

From Reagan to Trump: The shift in the GOP's foreign policy


Members of the Republican Party now seem far more cosy toward Russia than they did in the 1980s

Ronald Reagan once claimed that America must ‘pass the dream of freedom onto a waiting and hopeful world’. However, in recent times there has been a policy shift within the establishment of the Republican party, toward one which instead wishes to trample on the freedom of others. Senators such as Rand Paul and Josh Hawley argued against sending large amounts of aid to Ukraine, suggesting that doing so would further increase America’s debt problem and would once again result in nation building - something which Hawley argued was a failure in Iraq and Afghanistan. Members of the House went further in their opposition to supporting Ukraine. Madison Cawthorn argued that the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is a thug, whilst Marjorie Taylor Greene suggested that the US was provoking Putin into war. Former President Trump has gone even further, arguing that Putin is ‘smart’.

All this suggests that an element of the GOP is now more interested in supporting those who wish to impose their will on others, rather than those who support state sovereignty and individual freedom.

It is important to note that there are elements of the GOP who are still following the party orthodoxy. Senators Marco Rubio and Lindsay Graham, and even some Trump loyalists such as the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have argued that if anybody is a thug it is the Russian President. It may well be true that those who waver in their support for Ukraine are in the minority among Republicans; but the fact that there are some who support those who are considered to be tyrants does imply a policy shift.

Those who are not unrelenting in their condemnation of Putin are often Trump’s most loyal supporters who endorse his claim that the 2020 Presidential Election was stolen. Senator Hawley objected to the counting of some of the electoral ballots on January 6th after the insurrection, whilst Representative Cawthorn spoke at the ‘Save America’ rally on the same day. This suggests that those who are lacking in their support for freedom aboard are ambivalent in their support for democracy at home. MAGA Republicans appear to prioritise their support for those who display strength over their support for the principles which their country was founded on. In the minds of some very vocal Republicans, freedom, democracy, and liberty are now second to their support for division, authoritarianism, and tyranny. This is the complete opposition of the vision which Reagan argued for, who often referred to America as the shining city on a hill.

Reagan was very clear in his opposition to Soviet communism and global tyranny. From calling the Soviets ‘an evil empire’ to being very clear that the Berlin Wall had to come down, Reagan was clear and uncompromising in his opposition to authoritarianism. Whilst Putin’s Russia has many differences to the Soviet Union that Reagan had to contend with, comparisons can still be made. Whilst Trump seems to have great admiration for Putin and other authoritarian regimes, Reagan was clear that freedom must prevail. There are, therefore, clear philosophical differences between Trump and Reagan - Trump wishes to befriend tyrants whilst Reagan wished to bring down the most tyrannical regime of his time. As a result of this policy shift, it does seem bizarre that some who claim that their politics is similar to that of Reagan, such as Ted Cruz, are steadfast in their support for Trumpism, defending some of his most extreme antics like the claim that a democratic election was rigged.

Within the Republican Party, there has always been fierce disagreements on foreign policy, ranging from the debate about isolationism or internationalism to the debate about how to best manage the Soviet threat. The argument between ‘establishment Republicans’ and Trump loyalists is possibly the next phase of this division within the party. However, what is clear is that Trump and those who follow the America First doctrine have a fundamental disagreement with those who remain loyal to Reagan’s vision of an America spreading freedom. Despite their supposed admiration for Reagan, those who are loyal to Trumpism espouse a vision which focuses entirely on American domestic interests; rather than any strategy to spread American values across the globe.

Image: Flickr / Conecta Abogados



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