Republican voters today are divided between three broad tendencies: internationalist, nationalist, and non-interventionist. Donald Trump won the GOP presidential primaries this year partly by playing upon these divisions in an unconventional way. He assembled a new, ideologically cross-cutting insurgent coalition based upon strong support from non-college educated Republicans, directed against free trade, immigration, and policy elites from both parties. In effect, he pulled together nationalist and non-interventionist support against conservative internationalists, using his own polarizing personality as the focus. Since Trump is the GOP’s nominee, these nationalist and non-interventionist tendencies now have greater sway within the party than at any moment since the 1930s. Yet in many ways, the foreign policy preferences of the average Republican voter are no different – and no more “isolationist” – than they were four or five years ago. This raises the interesting possibility that the long-term future of conservative internationalists may not be as dire as many seem to believe. But of course, if Trump becomes president, then his declared policy preferences and decision-making style will carry even more weight than they do today. Paradoxically, the future of a viable Republican foreign policy approach rests on Trump’s defeat.
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