The Corner


2020 Might Be a Foreign-Policy Presidential Election

Our friend Hugh Hewitt makes several claims — some implied, some stated — in his Washington Post column yesterday that seem to go back and forth over the is-versus-ought distinction.

1. We face a number of serious foreign-policy challenges.

2. Barack Obama responded to foreign-policy challenges poorly.

3. John Bolton and Mike Pompeo have better responses.

4. Donald Trump’s responses will be in line with theirs.

5. 2020 will be about foreign policy.

6. Not only will 2020 be about foreign policy, but specifically along the lines Hugh delineates.

7. Donald Trump will benefit from that.

The first point strikes me as unassailable.

The second point strikes me as debatable, but I agree with it.

The third point is defensible and mostly right.

The fourth point is at best something one can hope for, but I wouldn’t even bet that Bolton or even Pompeo will be there two years from now, never mind that we can be confident that Trump will listen to them (or that he even consistently listens to them now).

Claims five and six seem incredibly unlikely barring a war or a manufactured crisis. The idea that the 2020 election will not principally be about Donald Trump — if Donald Trump runs again — seems like wish-casting and nothing more. I am open to correction, but it’s worth noting that there is no significant connective tissue between Hugh’s entirely defensible discussion of foreign policy and his claim that it will drive voters in 2020. One could have written a similar piece at similar moments in the political cycle for most presidential elections of the 20th century. How many of them were actually about foreign policy? A few, but not that many. More simply: This claim is entirely unknowable.

Last is the idea that Trump will obviously benefit from a foreign-policy election (that breaks down precisely along the terms laid out by Hugh). This is the biggest of the is-versus-ought transgressions. I don’t think that the election will be about foreign policy (even if the economy stays strong) and if it is, it won’t be about the need for a bigger navy. Even if we ought to have one.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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