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Debating Tea Party Foreign Policy

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Will the Tea Party movement redefine the right's foreign policy priorities in the same way it has redefined their domestic policy priorities? That seems to be the question Greg poses here, following on remarks by Gideon Rachman, in response to this weekend's festivities in Washington, D.C. (the rally was designed around Glenn Beck's views on faith and the need for an American spiritual revival, and therefore far more religious than political - something which won't be true at the Tea Party movement's 9/12 march.)

Others have raised similar questions. Beck is a canny entertainer, but his focus, at least as a television host, has almost entirely been on American domestic policy - when he's wandered into other areas, such as Puerto Rican statehood, he's latched onto storylines that don't quite fit. Instead of adopting neoconservative views, or more traditional Republican views, on foreign policy issues, Beck has wavered.

In this uncertainty, Beck is perfectly representative of the average member of the Tea Party movement. Keep in mind this is a political faction that hinges on a core set of economic issues, with a focus on fiscal and government reform, along the lines of the political upsurge that made Ross Perot a factor in the early 1990s. As such, they're quite dangerous and difficult for Republicans to control - being, as many of them are, fiscal conservatives and entrepreneurs who were as frustrated by George W. Bush's second term as they presently are with Barack Obama's first.

Research by the Chicago-based Sam Adams Alliance found that "in 2004, 96.9 percent of Tea Party activists surveyed said they voted for George W. Bush," however, "in late summer 2010, only 50.7 percent say they now affiliate themselves with the Republican Party," and fewer than half view Bush favorably today in line with the population as a whole. So I doubt you'd see the divided Tea Party embrace Bush's foreign policy wholesale, any more than they would his other policies.

Beck won't determine the direction on any of these matters, mostly because it doesn't play to his strengths in front of the audience, and because he's smart enough to know that. This is a policy debate that will play out over the course of the next two years, with the various potential 2012 Republican candidates as proxies for factions within the Tea Party and the right as a whole. We could be seeing the first incident in this coming clash in today's interview with Ambassador John Bolton (who's reportedly considering a 2012 run himself) at the Daily Caller, where he notes:

“In the sense that I want to make sure that not only in the Republican Party, but in the body politic as a whole, people are aware of threats that remain to the United States. You know, as somebody who writes op-eds and appears on the television, I appreciate as well as anybody that…there is a limit to what that accomplishes,” he said. “Whereas, some governor from some state in the middle of the country announces for president they get enormous coverage even if their views are utterly uninformed on major issues.”

One wonders if Bolton was thinking of Mitch Daniels or Tim Pawlenty, neither of whom have found their voice yet on foreign policy issues. In any case, this should be an interesting debate to watch.

Benjamin Domenech, a former speechwriter for Tommy Thompson and Sen. John Cornyn, is editor of The New Ledger and a research fellow with The Heartland Institute. He writes on defense and security issues for The Compass.