Republicans reclaim their status as the party of hawks

TOPSHOTS Iraqi Shiite tribesmen brandish their weapons as they gather to show their willingness to join Iraqi security forces in the fight against Jihadist militants who have taken over several northern Iraqi cities, on June 17 2014, in the southern Shiite Muslim shrine city of Najaf. Fighting erupted at the northern approaches to Baghdad Tuesday as Iraq accused Saudi Arabia of backing militants who have seized swathes of territory in an offensive the UN says threatens its very existence. AFP PHOTO/HAIDAR HAMDANIHAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP/Getty Images
Iraqi Shiite tribesmen brandish their weapons as they gather to show their willingness to join Iraqi security forces in the fight against Jihadist militants who have taken over several northern Iraqi cities, on June 17 in the southern Shiite Muslim shrine city of Najaf. (AFP PHOTO/HAIDAR HAMDANI/Getty Images)

Remember when the Republican Party was quickly shifting toward a new brand of Rand Paul-esque foreign policy non-interventionism?

No more.

Less than a year ago, just 18 percent of GOPers said that the United States does “too little” when it comes to helping solve the world’s problems, according to a Pew Research Center poll. Today, that number has more than doubled, to 46 percent.

Over that same span – from November to today -- the percentage of Republicans who say the United States does “too much” has dropped from 52 percent to 37 percent, and those who say the United States does about the right amount has declined from 26 percent to 14 percent.

So to recap: Nine months ago, about three times as many Republicans said the U.S. does too much as said it does too little. Today, significantly more say it does too little.

Republicans longing for a more active foreign policy now (or perhaps more accurately, again) outnumber Democrats (24 percent) and independents (28 percent), both of whom are still more likely to say that the United States does too much abroad.

The results echo a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll which showed higher GOP support for airstrikes in Iraq.

So what to account for the shift?

Well, the GOP’s drift away from international involvement was a longstanding trend, resulting from two decade-long wars and, undoubtedly, because the commander in chief is now a Democrat whose foreign policy the vast majority of Republicans dislike. Through a series of overseas conflicts that didn't directly involve the United States, including the Arab Spring and Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, that newfound non-interventionism largely stuck.

Today, though, things have changed. Faced with a deteriorating situation in Iraq following the withdrawal of U.S. troops, Republicans have changed their tune and, according to this poll, reverted to a more hawkish foreign policy – one more reminiscent of where things were during the Bush administration, when the GOP for years defended the case for war in Iraq, even as the larger public grew more and more skeptical.

While this new poll might make it appear that the GOP has quickly changed course, though, it’s probably just reflecting a reality that never really went away. And that reality is that the GOP was and is the more hawkish of the two major American political parties -- even as many Republicans like the idea of separating themselves from the Bush administration's wars.

Without a really compelling reason to get involved in overseas conflicts, Republicans embraced the idea of non-interventionism. Now that we’ve got a really serious situation in Syria and Iraq – not to mention a Democratic president who has been hesitant to use force (the airstrikes in Iraq notwithstanding) – the GOP has apparently rediscovered a desire to shape such world events in a way they don't see President Obama fulfilling.

A desire, we would argue, that probably never really went away.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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