The Most Dangerous Up-and-Coming Republican

Even as we reel from the presidency of Donald Trump, there is one Republican on the horizon who is even more dangerous: Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR). While Trump is ignorant and impulsive, Cotton shares his rage-filled authoritarianism, but combines it with intelligence and the patience to play the long game.

With someone like Cotton, it is rare to see him lift his mask because he is practiced in the art of deceit. But as Dana Milbank documents from yesterday’s confirmation hearing for Gina Haspel’s nomination to be CIA director, he occasionally lets it slip.

 …when intelligence committee Vice Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) was giving closing remarks about former CIA director John Brennan’s views on torture, Cotton interrupted again.

Warner winced and looked over at Cotton. “Excuse me,” he said.

Cotton kept on heckling. “That would be the same Mr. Brennan who supports her nomination!”

Chairman Richard Burr (N.C.) hammered the gavel to silence his fellow Republican.

“The senator will suspend,” he ordered.

Cotton ignored Burr. “We need the full record on the record!” he continued.

“No,” Burr repeated. “The senator will suspend.”

Cotton still refused. “John Brennan supports her nomination!” he said, before quieting.

That merely demonstrate’s Cotton’s failure to recognize Senate decorum. But his intentions were made clear. He is determined to have the last word and is willing to brow-beat anyone who gets in his way. That is why Milbank summarizes with this:

Colleagues and staff on the Hill report that he can be as nasty privately as he is publicly, as uncivil to Republicans as he is to Democrats. He imputes ill motives to those who disagree with him. He served in the military but now treats politics as war.

Of course, Senator Cotton is most well-known for being the author of a letter to the mullahs of Iran that attempted to undermine the Obama administration’s negotiations on their nuclear weapons program. In doing so, he walked right up to the line of treason, at minimum. Keep in mind that he did that a mere three months after being sworn in as the senator from Arkansas. His alternative to those negotiations was to suggest that military action against Iran would basically be a piece of cake.

But in a move that captures the senator’s vindictiveness, at about the same time that he was writing that letter, he put a hold on the nomination of Cassandra Butts, Obama’s nominee to be ambassador to the Bahamas. Cotton maintained that hold until she died a year later, telling her at one point that he knew that she and the president were friends and that he was attempting to “inflict special pain on the president.” What kind of human being does something like that?

It was also Tom Cotton who was rushed to the White House by Stephen Miller when there was concern that the president was about to work with Senators Durbin and Graham to finalize a bipartisan legislative fix to DACA. Cotton is vehemently anti-immigrant and to this day denies that Trump ever referred to “shithole countries” during the subsequent conversation. Following that meeting Sen. Graham called Cotton “the Steve King of the Senate,” a fairly accurate description. Once again, Cotton shot back with ugly vindictiveness.

“The difference between Steve King and Lindsey Graham is that Steve King can actually win an election in Iowa,” Cotton said…”[Graham] didn’t make it to the starting line and he didn’t even make it off the kiddie table in the debates.”

What is most telling about Cotton, other than his vindictiveness, is that he is highly intelligent and content to play the long game. The guy got his undergrad and law degree from Harvard. When recruited to run for the Senate against incumbent Democrat Blanche Lincoln in 2010, he declined. Instead, he ran for an open house seat in 2012, served two terms, and then ran against the most vulnerable Democratic incumbent in the senate, Mark Pryor in 2014. It is also worth noting that, from the beginning, Cotton has garnered the endorsement of both the Republican establishment and the tea party.

For all of the despicable things Trump has done, there have been times when his ignorance and incompetence have kept things from being even worse. You won’t find Senator Tom Cotton making the same mistakes. Keep your eye on this guy and be aware that he is plotting for the day he will run as president. If/when Trump finally goes down, let’s hope he takes Cotton with him.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .