The Pentagon-First Litmus Test

It’s pretty amazing that just four years after congressional Republicans signed onto a budget agreement that reduced defense spending via an automatic “sequestration” process, mainstream conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt is able to say this:

Let’s talk a bit about which House Republican incumbents are going to draw primary opponents in 2016. Make a note: Those GOP representatives who vote against upping Pentagon spending this week are at the top of a list that deserve to face off against an Iraq or Afghan war vet when votes are cast in primaries next spring or summer. Reckless endangerment of American national security via showboating votes against Pentagon funding should earn a GOP representative a quick ticket to enforced retirement.

With a world on fire and threats to the homeland as well as allies growing daily, posturing over Pentagon spending should become a toxic indulgence for incumbents.

“There is overwhelming support in our conference for providing additional resources to protect our national security,” House Speaker John Boehner declared at his weekly press conference last week, and with that the gauntlet was thrown down.

There will be a vote in the House, just has there have now been votes in the Senate, that are going to separate the GOP into the heirs of Ronald Reagan and his “peace through strength” beliefs and the hangers-on who have never understood that all they prize in terms of liberty, small government and federalism depends first and foremost on an American military that is not only larger than any other two, or five or ten combined next largest militaries, but one equal to the unique and essential task of bringing order to a chaotic and increasingly out-of-control world.

That, folks, is how you phrase an unconditional litmus test, based on an assessment of world events that could come right out of a defense contractor lobbyist’s briefcase.

Before long, Sen. Rand Paul is going to have to decide whether to expose himself to an unbelievable pounding from conservative opinion-leaders, or instead drive his father mad by just going with the flow and throwing money at the Pentagon like everyone else. He may try to thread the needle by claiming he knows how to deploy the coiled snake of American military power on the cheap, but I’m guessing nothing short of the cold hard cash of appropriations will suffice to signal the requisite degree of “patriotism.”

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.