This past July, the New Republic’s Eli Lake claimed to discern in the emerging 2012 GOP presidential field the “end of the neocon consensus.” That peculiar blend of faux democratic idealism and unbridled militarism that had characterized establishment Republican thinking throughout the George W. Bush years and into the John McCain presidential campaign, Lake thought, was under assault from business-friendly, deficit-wary, and “isolationist”-minded politicos.
As it turns out, however, the main threat to the neocon consensus in the presidential campaign is the fact that U.S. foreign policy has receded into the deep background of public concerns and, consequently, of the rhetoric of most of the Republican presidential candidates. To the extent they utter views on issues like Iraq, Israel, or China, GOP candidates appear to be to taking many of their cues from long-worn-out neoconservative talking points.
Nevertheless, some of the candidates early on revealed a more cautious approach—one not so different from that adopted by then-presidential candidate George W. Bush during the run up to the 2000 election. In line with candidate George W., most of the current candidates seem to lack enthusiasm for building new democracies abroad. And the ostensible successes of President Barack Obama’s hawkish policies in places like Libya have helped push his would-be presidential opponents to pay lip service to anti-interventionist opinions. Thus, while neoconservatives at the American Enterprise Institute and Commentary magazine criticized the Obama administration for its lack of vigor in Libya, many of the Republican candidates expressed outright opposition to U.S. involvement in the conflict.