Want to see why some conservatives have Tom Cotton high on their list of acceptable running-mate choices for Donald Trump? This six-minute segment on MSNBC’s Morning Joe demonstrates his grasp of national-security and foreign-policy issues, especially when it comes to the war on radical Islamist terrorist groups like ISIS. Cotton ably deflects the suggestion that his own views come closer to Hillary Clinton’s than Trump’s, even on the issue of NATO.
Interestingly, though, Cotton insists that his speaking gig at the convention will be in support of the military and veterans, leaving Trump out of the equation:
SCARBOROUGH: With us now from Capitol Hill, member of both the Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. Senator, thanks so much for being with us. I want to start really quickly with a question. Are you going to be speaking at the convention next week?
COTTON: Yes, Joe, I do intend to be speaking at the convention. We’re waiting to nail down the final date and time, but I look forward to talking about our military and our veterans, and what we need to do to make sure that we’re serving them, so they can serve us.
Cotton has already endorsed Trump, so the coyness isn’t really required at this point. Cotton dispenses with it altogether when it comes to defending Trump’s policies on NATO when Nicolle Wallace challenges him on it:
WALLACE: Senator, you support a robust foreign policy, a strong leadership role for our country in the world, and I know you’re a backer of Donald Trump. But I wonder how you square the fact that on relationships with our allies, it’s actually Hillary Clinton who, so far, has advanced a more robust, a more international, let’s say a more full-throated role for our country and our military on the world stage.
COTTON: Well, I certainly wouldn’t say I’m close to Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy.
WALLACE: No, no, you’re a Trump-backer. I — you’ve endorsed Donald Trump and you back him, but on foreign policy, he — you know, he supports, and he has a lot of questions about NATO and how important they are, doesn’t seem to understand their role on national security. He — you know, on 9/11 (ph) — he just have views that seem sort of out of the mainstream of traditional Republican foreign policy, and you’re a respected voice on Iran and on the Middle East. I wonder if part of what you’re going to talk about at the convention is to bring Republicans along, to give them some credibility on those issues?
COTTON: Well, I wouldn’t say that they’re that far away from a traditional Republican foreign policy, which belongs in a very strong military and a robust role for America in the world, but backed up with that military, hopefully without having to use the military. Because ultimately, our common defense’s goal is not to fight and win wars, but to stop them from happening in the first place. But just to take one example, you cited NATO. Donald Trump has cited a common problem that I, and many Democrats and Republicans alike have cited for years, that European NATO members are not spending what they need to maintain that common defense.
Now, his proposed solution at the time is not something I would support, suggesting that we should spend less or maybe we should leave NATO. I think since then, though, he has said, for instance, that NATO needs to be playing a stronger role in the fight against Islamic State, which of course, explicitly acknowledges the role that we lay in NATO and the role that NATO plays in the world.
That’s deftly handled, and done with more authority and credibility than some other veepstakes contenders might manage. And when Steve Rattner queries him on Barack Obama’s gradual escalation in the ISIS conflict, Cotton shows that he can handle direct policy issues as well as he handles Trump apologetics:
RATTNER: Senator, the president announced the other day that he was sending another 560 troops to Iraq and he also announced that he was going to leave more troops in Afghanistan than he previously said. How do you think about those troop levels that he’s now committed to for the rest of his term, as it relates to what you would like to see happen over there?
COTTON: Well, let me take those in sequence. First, in Iraq we sent a little over 500 troops to Iraq, mostly kind of combat enablers to do things like repair bridges that we’re going to need to — if we’re going to retake Mosul. But I think it’s an example of the incrementalism and the gradualism that’s characterized our campaign against the Islamic State. It seemed like every few weeks, especially after a bombing around the world, we announce some new change.
We’re going to send special operations forces to Syria where we didn’t have them. We’re going to let troops go to the battalion level where they were limited to the (inaudible) level. We’re going to send a few more hundred troops. We should just take stock of all the things that we could be doing and we’re not doing and do them right now, before there’s another bombing.
The argument against Cotton is that he just got into politics, and that he’s not necessarily well seasoned enough to be one heartbeat away from the presidency. This isn’t a cycle in which experience is highly prized, however, and his lack of connection to the Washington establishment might be a plus — as would be his age. In a betting parlor, Cotton would definitely be one of the long shots, but it’s clear to see why Republicans and conservatives think he’s also a long-term leader for the party and the country.