This makes my Post colleague Josh Rogin’s story all the more interesting. Despite Elizabeth Warren’s surge this fall, despite Pete Buttigieg’s more recent surge in Iowa, despite Bernie Sanders regaining his footing in recent weeks, and despite trial balloon after trial balloon after trial balloon of other candidates entering the race, Rogin reports than an awful lot of the Democrats’ foreign policy bench has endorsed Joe Biden:
The Biden campaign is releasing the names of these former officials and experts, who have served in seven different presidential administrations, as part of Biden’s strategy to run as the Democratic candidate with (by far) the most foreign policy experience in the field. But the list of endorsers also reinforces Biden’s call for a return to a more centrist, traditional foreign policy — not a progressive break from the norm — as a response to the Trump administration’s mismanagement of a host of international crises.“America’s standing in the world and our ability to advance the interests and values of the American people have taken a big hit these past three years. We need a new president in 2020, and Vice President Biden is the best candidate to bring us back to stable ground, repair the damage done, and restore our place in the world from his first day in office,” said Antony Blinken, former deputy secretary of state, now a senior adviser to Biden’s campaign.
A quick glance at the names reveals some heavy hitters, including former national security adviser Tom Donilon; former undersecretary of state Nick Burns; former deputy CIA director Avril Haines; Biden’s former national security adviser, Colin Kahl; and Jake Sullivan, who worked for Biden and Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. I know for a fact that some of 133 names had advised other candidates earlier in this cycle, so this announcement does represent a shift in the adviser-verse.
That said, will any of it matter? Foreign policy experts have not had a great few years of influencing, well, anything. In 2008 Clinton cornered the market on foreign policy advisers, with Richard Holbrooke allegedly going so far as to warn of repercussions for who chose different campaigns. In 2012, Mitt Romney cornered the market on GOP foreign policy professionals, and that did not stop people like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich from being taken seriously. In 2016, there were two GOP national security letters opposing Donald Trump, and we know how well that worked out.
Another reason to be wary of imputing any meaning into this list is that the range of foreign policy debate among Democrats has widened considerably. There is a lot of cross-partisan enthusiasm for restraint nowadays — at least in theory. Even without relying on old Obama/Clinton hands, progressives have been taking foreign policy more seriously and putting forward some interesting ideas.
That said, much like Biden’s actual foreign policy pronouncements, it is possible that this kind of collective endorsement packs a bigger punch than media folks might imagine. Trump has found himself facing impeachment in no small part because foreign policy professionals have detailed the ways in which Trump subverted U.S. national interests for his own corrupt political interests. Story after story keeps coming out about how none of the status quo is normal.
Change candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are running on the premise that Democrats are sick of Trump and thirsty for radical change. Biden is running on the premise that Democrats are sick of Trump and just want a return to normalcy. Biden’s foreign policy ideas exemplify that, and they are pretty popular. The endorsement letter also crowds out other candidates, like Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Cory Booker and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who are driving in this same lane.
Consider this column a long-winded way of saying that I am legitimately curious whether this makes a lick of difference. The answer will tell us something interesting about the future of the Democratic Party.