Tom Cotton

Small Blessings: Tom Cotton Isn't Running for President

Cotton is one of the Senate's staunchest drug warriors and no friend of liberty.


Politico reported Sunday that Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.) has decided against running for president in 2024, after making several exploratory jaunts to New Hampshire and Iowa. That's great news for anyone sick of hearing Cotton caterwaul about crime and drug offenders.

Cotton is one of the Senate's staunchest defenders of mandatory minimum sentences and the drug war. He frequently complains that America has an "under-incarceration" problem and has opposed any form of criminal justice reform, no matter how moderate or anodyne. At his worst moments, which come often, he is a caricature of a "tough on crime" lawmaker.

Most recently, he was aghast at President Joe Biden pardoning federal marijuana offenders "in the midst of a crime wave."

He has a visceral loathing for the rights of the accused, as well as defense attorneys who represent them. For example, he suggested that Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Jackson Brown, a former public defender, would have represented Nazis at the Nuremberg trials.

"The last Judge Jackson left the Supreme Court to go to Nuremberg and prosecute the case against the Nazis," Cotton said in a floor speech railing against Jackson. "This Judge Jackson might have gone there to defend them."

(Notably, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson supported the right to counsel for Nuremberg defendants.)

There is no area of federal criminal law that Cotton thinks couldn't benefit from harsher sentences: He wants new mandatory minimums for people who violate arbitrary bans on gun ownership.

And there is no area of federal criminal law that Cotton thinks is too harsh. In 2018, he repeatedly tried to torpedo the watered-down First Step Act and was one of 12 senators to vote against it, describing the bill—which reduced sentences for roughly 3,000 federal crack cocaine offenders, among other provisions—as a "jailbreak."

His preferred solution to unrest during the 2020 George Floyd protests was to deploy the U.S. military against civilians. "Anarchy, rioting, and looting needs to end tonight," he tweeted. "If local law enforcement is overwhelmed and needs backup, let's see how tough these Antifa terrorists are when they're facing off with the 101st Airborne Division. We need to have zero tolerance for this destruction."

"And, if necessary, the 10th Mountain, 82nd Airborne, 1st Cav, 3rd Infantry—whatever it takes to restore order. No quarter for insurrectionists, anarchists, rioters, and looters," Cotton continued.

As Reason's J.D. Tuccile wrote at the time, "Deploying the military to clear the streets might disperse protesters and looters alike in the short term, but it will exacerbate the problem of authoritarian law enforcement."

Of course, Cotton sees no problem with authoritarian law enforcement, except that there's not enough of it.

Cotton is bad on criminal justice, but pick any other issue and you can find plenty of anti-freedom opinions. He wants to cut legal immigration by half and hates warrant-proof encryption that keeps the government from snooping on your communications.

The debate stage and the national discourse surrounding the election will be a little less cartoonish for his absence.