Defense contractors are accustomed to getting what they want. That’s why defense contractors usually donate to Republican presidential candidates: because Republican presidential candidates usually give them what they want. That means a gushing flow of taxpayer money to be spent on weapons systems regardless of whether they’re needed or not, all with minimal oversight.
Too often, being “strong on defense” connotes little more than restocking this salad bar of crony capitalism. And it works: many contractor stocks are setting records. Between the ongoing bombing campaign against ISIS and the emerging threat from Beijing, the business of war is booming. Alas, Donald Trump, the current GOP nominee, despite being a bumptious braggart, has set about questioning the foundations of our militant foreign policy, from our infatuation with Middle East regime change to our position at the head of NATO. Now, this heterodoxy has sent the contractors stampeding over to Hillary Clinton.
The Democratic presidential nominee is leading Republican rival Donald Trump by a ratio of 2-to-1 in campaign donations from employees working for defense giants like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics. That’s a sharp turnaround from 2012, when defense contractors gave more to then-Republican nominee Mitt Romney than to President Barack Obama.
Since Trump locked up the Republican nomination three months ago, employees of 25 of the nation’s largest defense companies have donated $93,000 to Clinton, compared with $46,000 for Trump, according to a POLITICO review of filings with the Federal Election Commission. Clinton’s donor rolls also include more than two dozen top defense executives, while Trump’s show just two.
Politico cycles through the possible reasons for War Inc’s shift, which include a desire to back the winning horse and a fear of the instability that a Trump presidency might engender. I’m wary of that instability as well—Trump is far from the “conservative” candidate if you’re employing the Merriam-Webster definition of the word—but the contractors’ preference says less about The Donald than it does about Hillary Clinton. Lockheed and Friends know that Clinton isn’t going to rock their boats, or aircraft or land vehicles or other weapons systems. She has indicated no desire to reform the military-industrial complex, and the industries like it that way.
The need for an overhaul of our military procurement system is obvious to anyone who examines it. According to a 2014 GAO report, acquisition costs for weapons exceeded their initial estimates by 42 percent, resulting in an additional $448 billion in cost growth. Yet anyone who pushes back against this boondoggle is promptly shot down. Shay Assad, the Pentagon’s director of pricing who I profiled last month, has been trying to extract more data from contractors to tamp down costs and ensure taxpayers aren’t gouged. For his trouble, Politico reports that he’s now “the most hated man in the Pentagon.”
Surely Trump, who for all his faults promises at least a form of long-term restraint in foreign policy, isn’t going over much better. Worse, Trump once declared on Fox News that the sequester (*spooky theme music*) didn’t go far enough with its spending cuts—many of which targeted the Department of Defense—and that doomsday warnings about sequestration were “overexaggerated.” Customary illiteracy and predictable flip-flop aside, he was proven right about that.
Clinton’s consistent opposition to sequestration and support for regime change makes her a superior investment for any aspiring war profiteer. Don’t ever think that if Hillary is elected to the White House, she’ll show up and govern alone. Her husband, the freakazoids from Clinton World, and the defense lobbyists will be right there with her.