The Economist was among the publications encouraged to follow U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton around Iowa earlier this week as he campaigned for Iowa Republicans and himself as a 2020 presidential candidate. Precious little was said about this year’s presidential nominee.
The Economist sees Cotton as representative of the “doctrinaire Right” and an “unlikely figure” to appeal to the burn-it-down group that is Donald Trump’s base. Ah, but Cotton is adaptable (uncharitably you might say hypocritical.) He may be a hawk’s hawk; he may be a reliable scold of welfare moochers; he may want to strangle government; he may want to keep locking people up. But there’s more.
Interviewed before addressing the Reagan dinner of the Iowa Republican Party in Des Moines, the senator played down differences between his interventionist views, Mr Trump’s scorn for nation-building and public opinion. Detached from its roots in 1940s pacifism, the slogan America First “makes a lot of sense” to voters, Mr Cotton says. He thinks Mr Trump is wrong to question the wisdom of overthrowing Saddam Hussein, arguing that the Iraq war made Americans safer, and so put America first. Chiding the Bush administration for years of drift before the Iraq troop surge of 2007, and accusing Mr Obama of allowing the rise of Islamic State, Mr Cotton says the American people are not fundamentally anti-war, just “fundamentally opposed to losing wars.”
Elections turn on many issues, he goes on, but the one issue on which Mr Trump differed from almost every Republican he beat in the 2016 primary was immigration. Mr Cotton supports Mr Trump and is sure that a key to navigating an era of “populist insurgencies”, from Britain to continental Europe and America, lies in acknowledging the “reasonable, legitimate concerns” of working families about low-skilled migration and its effects on society and on wages—even if a “transnational cosmopolitan elite” is left unscathed by them.
Always funny to hear the man with two Harvard degrees and a McKinsey stint sneer at “elites.”
He emphasized his military service, of course — a warrior and patriot.
He combines that pitch with Trumpian vows to secure the border and reject a “new normal” that, he says, sees riots on the streets and “cops assassinated on the beat”, while sneering liberal elites “live behind high walls with armed guards”.
There he goes with those elites again. An Iowa Republican official called him “fresh.” In Arkansas, not so much.