Hillary Clinton, armed with the new endorsement of former George W. Bush assistant secretary of defense James Clad, said she wanted to be the candidate of "American exceptionalism" in a speech on Wednesday.
Appearing at an American Legion in Columbus, Ohio, Clinton’s team highlighted that Clad joins much of the typically Republican-aligned military brass in breaking ranks and denouncing Donald Trump. (Clad joined her campaign event on Wednesday, according to Reuters.)
Clinton also highlighted America’s "diplomatic leadership in the world," emphasizing her experience as senator on the Armed Services Committee and secretary of state.
Trump has had a tough time earning the support of hawkish Republicans, given his history of calling the Iraq War a disaster, attacking Bush-era "nation building and regime change," and generally doing everything possible to stick forks in the eyes of neoconservatives. He meanwhile has had an indifferent attitude about some countries expanding into nuclear capabilities.
Clinton’s approach on Wednesday could prove something of a double-edged sword. It’s aimed at peeling away moderate Republicans with legitimate fears about Trump’s foreign policy instincts. But it also may risk hurting Clinton’s popularity with a left flank that already fears she’s far too close to Bush-era Republican foreign policy.
Hillary Clinton does not appear to fear left-wing attacks on foreign policy
In a statement, the Clinton campaign pointed out that the Clad endorsement follows those of National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, both of whom worked under Republican administrations.
The Clinton campaign also noted that 50 Republican national security officials published an editorial saying Trump "would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being." Paul Wolfowitz, a key architect of the Iraq War, also recently said he "might have to" vote for Clinton.
Critics to Clinton’s left have seized on these endorsements as proof that she’s an interventionist "neo-con" at heart. "The GOP foreign policy elite see Hillary Clinton as preferable to either Trump or Paul. Her belligerence has never been in doubt," writes the Intercept’s Jon Schwarz.
Others have argued that Clinton’s reputation as a hawk is way overblown. Writing for Vox, the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Jeremy Shapiro argued Clinton will be focused on domestic policy and has "complained about the militarization of US foreign policy."
"Clinton will not risk her political standing unless she is convinced that there is a strong case for how such an intervention will both improve the situation on the ground and meet with the approval of the American public," Schapiro said. "In the next four years, such cases will be few and far between."
Nothing Clinton does on the campaign is likely to put an end to this debate one way or another. But her unapologetic embrace of the GOP military establishment at least suggests that she doesn’t believe the left-wing attacks on her foreign policy can hurt her, and that the embrace of Republican military officials can help.
Clinton's speech met with leftwing criticism
After Clinton's speech, some leftwing critics were quick to criticize her for touting the endorsement of an official they characterize as representing right of American foreign policy:
Clinton Machine touts endorsement from Bush defense official. So illustrative of…everything. https://t.co/SZL9MZspXA— David Sirota (@davidsirota) August 31, 2016
Remember when the theory of the 2012 campaign was "turn out the base"? HRC's doing the opposite. Her "base" is not natsec-minded Bush voters— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) August 31, 2016
Simpler explanation: Clinton is "moving to the center" not to court the phantom moderate swingvoter but b/c thats what she actually believes— Adam H. Johnson (@adamjohnsonNYC) August 31, 2016
Hillary Clinton is giving a foreign policy speech right now that sounds like it was written by Genghis Khan.— Murtaza Hussain (@MazMHussain) August 31, 2016
Others, including Vox's Matt Yglesias, pointed to the irony of Clinton of Clinton decrying cozying up to dictators given that the Clinton Foundation took millions of dollars from the governments of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Does the no cozying up to dictators principle include Persian Gulf monarchs? https://t.co/jwUVjU8T8L— Matthew Yglesias (@mattyglesias) August 31, 2016
Meanwhile, some conservatives saw in the speech something to like. Wrote Noah Rothman, an editor of the conservative magazine Commentary:
"The United States is *the* global force for freedom, justice, and human dignity." - Hillary "neocon" Clinton.— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) August 31, 2016