The Secret 'Isolationist' Majority That's Lurking Until After the Election


Sen. Rand Paul
U.S. Senate

In a piece that confusingly suggests that politicians skeptical of permament war are hiding their true colors until after the midterm election even as he concedes that non-interventionism is an increasingly popular position among Americans, Nicholas Wapshott frets for Politico that "after election day, the isolationists will be back."

When we wake up Wednesday morning, a lot of us will be isolationists again. All the tough election-season rhetoric about supporting U.S. troops abroad will have disappeared overnight, and many Americans can be expected to revert back to what has been a rising and unmistakable trend: For the first time in nearly three-quarters of a century – since the months before Dec. 7, 1941—many people are forthrightly embracing isolationism as an election issue. And the feeling isn't likely to go away any time soon, despite some recent polls suggesting that more and more Americans outraged by the videotaped beheadings of two journalists have supported military action against ISIL, also known as the Islamic State. With the war against ISIL expected to last many years, the pivotal issue of the 2016 election might turn out to be not the economy or health care but whether the United States should continue as the world's policeman, as it has since the end of World War II, or should finally come home for good.

"Isolationism" is Wapshott's preferred term throughout; he castigates as a "weasel word" any attempt to distinguish isolationists who didn't want to engage the world at all from non-interventionists who support free trade and peaceful interaction with the world, but object to the D.C. fetish for dropping American bombs and bodies into every knife fight on the planet.

Wapshott acknowledges that "isolationism" as well as opposition to NSA surveillance unites Americans, "bringing together the far left of the Democratic Party with libertarian Republicans in a show of solidarity rarely seen in Washington."

It's also popular among Americans who vote for those politicians, he concedes, with support for limited action against ISIS acting as an exception to public opposition to greater military intervention, according to Pew. Reason-Rupe polling finds almost identical results, with support for air strikes against ISIS balanced against opposition to the use of ground forces.

That skepticism about intervention extends elsewhere, according to Reason-Rupe polling. Only 28 percent of Americans want to increase the U.S. military presence around the world, while 36 percent want to decrease America's global military presence.

This skepticism of permanent war is so popular that…non-interventionists send "dog-whistle signals" to reassure the faithful without letting hawks catch on, according to Wapshott. But "as soon as the midterms are out of the way, dovish Democrats and libertarian Republicans will feel free once again to express their reluctance to continue to support military action abroad."

But the polling…Never mind. Wapshott is convinced that this is an underground movement—of the majority.

His spin aside, Wapshott is likely right. Non-interventionism—or "isolationism," if he insists—is on the rise, with limited exceptions made for special horrors like ISIS. Wapshott clearly doesn't like that development, but those of us who care about American lives might find it encouraging.