Two weeks before he hopes to consolidate his party at the Republican convention in Cleveland, Donald Trump is driving Republican foreign policy elites into the arms of Hillary Clinton, as several more Reagan and Bush administration veterans say they not only oppose Trump but will likely vote for Clinton this fall.
Two former senior officials from the George W. Bush administration tell POLITICO that they will cast a ballot for Clinton over Trump. They are Stephen Krasner, a Stanford University professor who served as the State Department’s director of policy planning from 2005 to 2007, and David Gordon, a senior advieor at the Eurasia Group who was Krasner’s successor in that post, which provides strategic thinking.
Also saying he would choose Clinton over Trump is Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA case officer and influential neoconservative writer for The Weekly Standard. Gerecht, a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has been a harsh critic of Obama’s foreign policy, opposing last summer’s nuclear deal with Iran and arguing for “war” in Syria.
But given a choice between her and Trump, Gerecht said in an email, “I will vote for Clinton.”
Those three were among more than 100 Republican foreign policy elites who signed a March open letter opposing Trump on the grounds that he is unqualified to oversee American national security — a searing concern that Trump has not assuaged with his shifting statements on foreign policy and unfamiliarity with basic issues. In a sign that Trump has largely failed since the end of primary season to win over reluctant critics within his party, at least a dozen of those people now say they expect to cast a ballot for Clinton.
That group includes Kenneth Adelman, a former Reagan administration arms control official who was a prominent advocate of the 2003 Iraq war; Patrick Cronin, a top official with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) under George W. Bush; and Philip Levy, who also worked in the State Department’s policy planning office and for Bush’s council of economic advisers. (The pro-Clinton positions of Adelman, Levy and Gordon were first reported last week by the Daily Beast.) Other signatories who have declared for Clinton include the military historian Max Boot; Kori Schake, a former official at the George W. Bush State Department and National Security Council; and retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor, a former top aide to General David Petraeus in Iraq, who has said that Trump would be a “foreign policy disaster for the United States.”
Adelman not only intends to vote for Clinton, he said in an email, but “will vote against any Republican who endorses Trump — whether for Senate or Congress or alderman.”
Gerecht lauded Clinton in a recent Weekly Standard essay, writing, “As unpleasant as it may be to accept, there is now only one presidential candidate who could abandon Obama’s defining foreign accomplishment,” by which he meant the Iran nuclear deal, “challenge the Islamic Republic’s regional ambitions, and destroy the caliphate of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.”
“She’s not a neoconservative,” Gerecht added, “but Hillary Clinton isn’t uncomfortable with American power.”
The widespread skepticism within the GOP establishment about Trump’s ability to manage foreign policy has made it difficult for the New Yorker to attract both endorsements and campaign advice from prominent national security experts at a time when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama attack him as unfit to be commander in chief.
In response, Trump has tried to make a virtue of his isolation. During an April 27 foreign policy address, Trump said that he would “look for talented experts with approaches and practical ideas, rather than surrounding myself with those who have perfect résumés but very little to brag about except responsibility for a long history of failed policies and continued losses at war… We have to look to new people because many of the old people frankly don’t know what they’re doing, even though they may look awfully good writing in The New York Times or being watched on television.”
Trump’s responses to two recent major world events — the terrorist attack in Florida and the British vote to leave the European Union — have not exactly raised the confidence of GOP foreign policy wonks. After Omar Mateen, a second-generation Afghan-American born in Queens, shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando, Trump reacted by tweeting “appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism” and repeating his blunt-instrument call to ban Muslims from entering the United States. And the morning after Britons shocked the world by voting for “Brexit,” sending U.K. politics into a tailspin along with global markets, Trump lauded the results and promoted his golf course. The following week’s speech trashing the U.S.-led global trade order, a shared project of Republican and Democratic elites alike, also didn’t help.
Last month Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state in Bush’s first term, told POLITICO he would back Clinton, citing what he called Trump’s poor grasp of foreign policy issues. George H.W. Bush’s former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft recently issued a strong endorsement of Clinton, whom he said “brings deep expertise in international affairs and a sophisticated understanding of the world.”
Trump is not completely wanting for heavyweight support. In recent weeks he’s won the backing of two former GOP secretaries of defense: former Vice President Dick Cheney, who held the top Pentagon post under George H.W. Bush, and Donald Rumsfeld, who served in George W. Bush’s first term.
Rumsfeld’s successor at the Pentagon, Robert Gates, has not explicitly said how he plans to vote, though he said in a May 19 interview with Yahoo! News that he would not feel comfortable entrusting Trump with the nuclear button, while allowing for the possibility that Trump could win him over.
Several other of the most senior figures from past GOP administrations have yet to express a preference, including Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell and George Shultz, and Bush’s last national security adviser, Stephen Hadley.