Is a new Republican foreign policy emerging?

While many Republican presidents have embodied elements of the Jacksonian worldview—in particular, the emphasis on fighting wars to win—none has so comprehensively advocated this populist vision as have Cruz and Trump. Both men have turned their backs on decades of Republican foreign policy, which has been internationalist, pro–free trade, pro-immigration, pro-democracy, and pro–human rights. Instead, they have embraced a Jacksonian weltanschauung that in the past has been championed by the likes of Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, George Wallace, and Jesse Ventura. The followers of all these men, Mead wrote, wanted “a popular hero to restore government to its proper functions.” Both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump look in the mirror and see just such a hero.

Cruz has been fairly explicit in identifying himself with these earlier Jacksonians. He has called for an “America First” foreign policy, echoing the demands of the America First Committee (which advocated isolationism until the attack on Pearl Harbor). And, even though as recently as 2013 he advocated legalizing undocumented immigrants as part of a comprehensive immigration reform, he has now vowed to oppose legalization “today, tomorrow, forever,” echoing George Wallace’s call for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” Cruz partisans claim that these historical associations are unintended, but Cruz is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School: It is hard to imagine he uses such evocative phrases without knowing what they evoke.

Cruz has also trafficked in the kind of crude establishment-baiting that has always been a hallmark of Jacksonians—without, it should be noted, the anti-Semitism that has usually been an unsavory accompaniment. (Cruz says he is a strong friend of Israel, although this does not square with his support of Assad, who is in league with Iran and Hezbollah.) Mead notes that Jacksonians believe that “corrupt movements and elites of the Old World” are “relentlessly plotting to destroy American liberty.” Their bogeymen, Mead continues, include “the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderbergers, the Bavarian Illuminati, the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers.” As if on cue, during his 2012 Senate campaign in Texas, Cruz denounced the Council on Foreign Relations (where I work) as a “pernicious nest of snakes” that is “working to undermine our sovereignty.” He did not mention that his wife, Heidi, was a term member of the Council.