For decades, Senator Lindsey Graham traveled the world with his friend John McCain, visiting war zones and meeting with foreign allies and adversaries, before returning home to promote the Republican gospel of an internationalist, hawkish foreign policy.
But this week, after President Biden announced that troops would leave Afghanistan no later than Sept. 11, Mr. Graham took the podium in the Senate press gallery and hinted that spreading the party’s message had become a bit lonely.
“I miss John McCain a lot but probably no more than today,” Mr. Graham said. “If John were with us, I’d be speaking second.”
Mr. McCain, the onetime prisoner of war in Vietnam, in many ways embodied a distinctive Republican worldview: a commitment to internationalism — and confrontation when necessary — that stemmed from the Cold War and endured through the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush before evolving after the Sept. 11 attacks to account for the threat of global terrorism.
has warned that a full withdrawal from Afghanistan could pose a significant national security threat.
For Republicans, the shift inward comes as their long dominance over issues of national security and international affairs is waning. Mr. Trump rejected Republican foreign policy orthodoxy but largely struggled to articulate a cohesive countervailing view beyond a vague notion of putting America first. He embraced strongmen, cast longtime allies as free riders and favored a transactional approach, rejecting any notion of the kind of values-driven foreign policy that had defined the party for decades.
The party’s foreign policy establishment found itself exiled from Mr. Trump’s government and fighting for relevance against an insurgent isolationist party base.
“To say that there is a single Republican foreign policy position is to miss what’s been happening within the conservative movement on these issue for the last 20 years,” said Lanhee Chen, a Hoover Institution scholar and policy adviser to a number of prominent Republican officials. “The characters change, the terminology changes, but the differences remain.”
Yet, that old debate carries new political resonance for the party, as it confronts the political need to develop a platform that goes beyond simply opposing whatever the Democratic administration puts in place.
“Anytime you don’t have the White House and you don’t have control of the Congress, it is a time to look inward and figure out what the predominate view is,” Mr. Chen said.
A survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs last year found that Republican voters preferred a more nationalist approach, valuing economic self-sufficiency, and taking a unilateral approach to diplomacy and global engagement
When asked about the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, 58 percent of Republicans surveyed said the outbreak showed the United States should be less reliant on other countries, compared with just 18 percent of Democrats who said the same. Close to half of Republicans agreed that “the United States is rich and powerful enough to go it alone, without getting involved in the problems of the rest of the world,” and two-thirds said they preferred that the country produce its own goods, as opposed to buying or selling overseas.