To attract Millennials, Republicans will have to do better than Tom Cotton

Tom Cotton, the junior Senator from Arkansas, has received significant national attention twice in the last year.

The first occasion was his election to the Senate, an office he sought after completing less than a full term in the House. That deficit was widely overlooked, however, as Cotton’s Ivy League background, military career, and aggressively pro-war foreign policy views proved irresistible to the Republican Party’s hawkish establishment.

National Journal summarized in 2013 that Cotton has “been called the future of the party and the last, best hope for GOP war hawks.” (Here’s hoping that “last” part proves true.)

Cotton returned to prominence last week with his now-infamous Iran letter—a move which has given even Sen. John “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” McCain some doubts.

Since then, Cotton has dominated headlines, most of which have focused on the belligerent foreign policy he has made a centerpiece of his public persona.

Just how pro-war is he? Matt Welch at Reason has provided the definitive list. Here’s an excerpt of what Cotton believes:

* That the U.S. should pre-emptively invade Iran, topple the mullahs, and ensure “replacement with [a] pro-western regime.”

* That “we should be proud for the way we treated these savages at Guantanamo Bay,” and that “the only problem with Guantanamo Bay is that there are too many empty beds.”

* That the National Security Agency needs to be able to collect bulk metadata on unsuspecting Americans, because “Folks, we are at war. You may not like that truth … Do not take this tool away from our warriors on the front lines.”

* That defense spending needs to be jacked up: “We need to restore money not only cut by the sequester but the $1 trillion [reduced before that].”

* That Iraq was a “just and noble war.”

That, concerning pre-emptive military intervention, “George Bush largely did have it right…”

* That ending President Barack Obama’s negotiations with Iran “is very much an intended consequence” of Cotton’s efforts in the Senate; “a feature, not a bug.”

Read more—oh yes, there’s more—here.

In short, Iraq veteran Cotton seems to have never met a war he didn’t like, and while that’s a perfectly appropriate attitude for, say, a military historian, it’s troubling to find in a member of our most distinguished deliberative body. So though by all accounts, Cotton is a serious man sincerely attempting to advance his agenda in Washington, the problem, as Jack Hunter has noted at Rare, is that this agenda is one of “involving the United States in every war imaginable at the cost of trillions.”

And that’s where the GOP runs into trouble if it wants to remain a competitive national party in coming decades—because as we saw at CPAC 2015, the largest annual gathering of Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians, the Millennial generation isn’t buying a Tom Cotton foreign policy.

Millennials have long taken a more humble approach to war than our elders, so as the passage of time inevitably makes us an increasingly important voting bloc, politicians would do well to catch up. A 2014 poll found that two out of three Millennials prefer solving international problems with diplomacy, not military strength; and fewer than a quarter of us support the kind of preemptive war Cotton advocates.

As one young CPAC attendee put it, “The younger generation… is very much antiwar and not crazy about spending money to go kill people overseas.” But “spending money to go kill people overseas” is literally what drives Tom Cotton politically.

So while Cotton wants us to just trust him and his pals in DC to take us to war yet again, Millennials’ faith in government is perpetually diminishing.

While Cotton’s Iran letter allows him to pose as a champion of the Constitution, his support of the blatantly unconstitutional (and 100% ineffective) NSA mass surveillance makes that stance hypocritical. As pollsters and churches have been realizing for years, if there’s anything Millennials don’t like, it’s a hypocrite.

And while Cotton would pump up the defense budget, flooding a notoriously wasteful government agency with yet more money to burn, two-thirds of young Americans think the government is too wasteful and inefficient as it is.

At 37, Tom Cotton is young in our aged Congress, yet his foreign policy belongs to an older generation. For those of us who have grown up under a lifetime of overseas entanglements with no end in sight, it’s obvious that war is just one more big government program. Another Iraq-like War, which Cotton seems so eager to have, simply will not do.

If it wants to attract younger voters, the Republican Party will have to do better than Tom Cotton.

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