So You Say You Want an Evolution? Generational v. Ideological Decline within Republican Noninterventionism

During research for “Partisans of the Old Republic: Right-Wing Opposition to U.S. Foreign Policy, 1934-1992,” I have been vexed by one question more than any other: how much of the decline of “isolationism” can be attributed to individuals flipping from noninterventionism, versus a more extensive, generational evolution within the American right. I have been searching for a computational way to approach this problem for months.

Current scholarship on the decline of interventionism within the Republican party focuses on the importance of events. Political historians and national security scholars often cite the impact of World War II and Korea as being the combined death knells of the Old Right and their noninterventionist tendencies.

This thesis is supported by a deluge of Republicans who saw the light after World War II or the Korean War. The combination of a power vacuum left by the weakening of the British Empire coupled with the threat of the Soviet Union caused these holdouts to give up their noninterventionist tendencies in the name of fighting communism. The abrupt turn of Senator Arthur Vandenberg after WWII is a prime example of an individual evolution serving the impetus for the transformation of the GOP. The career of Rep. Robert Chiperfield is indicative of this trend within the House of Representatives after he flipped upon the start of the Korean War. A young Gerald Ford, then a Yale law student, was a founding member of the America First Committee. Hell, even Barry Goldwater opposed U.S. government policy in French Indochina during his first stint in the U.S. Senate (believe it or not).

Despite such examples, the explanation of individual evolution has seemed lacking. I have been pouring (often obsessing) over this data for two years now, and there seem to be enough loose ends to challenge the importance of this thesis. How can I put it to the test using my dataset?

I may have stumbled upon a solution.

I decided to use the voting records that I have compiled thus far to determine how many congressional members manifested a noticeable decline in their opposition throughout their careers. Since I am looking for broader trends, I decided to limit my search to Representatives and Senators who served at least four congresses (eight years). Such a span would be more likely to cover a comprehensive array of events, presidential administration, wars, and changes into congressional governance. This sample will likely serve as a reliable proxy for the party as a whole.

Starting Opposition MeanEnding Opposition MeanChangeWing of PartyRegionGeneration
ADAIR, Edwin Ross0.5192307692307690.3363697705802970.182860998650472CenterMidwestgreatest
AIKEN, George David0.5802277432712220.2231415988255710.357086144445651CenterNorthlost
ALLEN, Leo Elwood0.7462121212121210.4607142857142860.285497835497835CenterMidwestlost
ANDERSEN, Herman Carl0.6840277777777780.5039682539682540.180059523809524RightMidwestlost
ANDERSON, John Bayard0.5666666666666670.299836601307190.266830065359477CenterMidwestgreatest
ANDRESEN, August Herman0.8257575757575760.4969696969696970.328787878787879RightMidwestlost
ANDREWS, Walter Gresham0.7817460317460320.09523809523809520.686507936507937CenterNorthlost
ARENDS, Leslie Cornelius0.7576923076923080.09040959040959040.667282717282717CenterMidwestlost
ASHBROOK, John Milan0.6470099667774090.3957488554610860.251261111316323RightMidwestsilent
BATES, George Joseph0.6150568181818180.1916666666666670.423390151515151CenterNorthlost
BATTIN, James Franklin0.5196428571428570.525641025641026-0.00599816849816848RightRockiesgreatest
BEAMER, John Valentine0.5192307692307690.522727272727273-0.00349650349650354CenterMidwestlost
BENDER, George Harrison0.5250.08391608391608390.441083916083916CenterMidwestlost
BLACKNEY, William Wallace0.6545454545454550.3939393939393940.260606060606061CenterMidwestmissionary
BRADLEY, Frederick Van Ness0.6391941391941390.916666666666667-0.277472527472528CenterMidwestlost
BREWSTER, Ralph Owen0.8461538461538460.4228571428571430.423296703296703CenterNorthlost
BRICKER, John William0.5360623781676410.4575163398692810.0785460382983603RightMidwestlost
BROCK, William Emerson, III0.5074404761904760.1982341557813260.309206320409151CenterSouthsilent
BROOKS, Charles Wayland0.60.5979532163742690.00204678362573096CenterMidwestlost
BROWN, Clarence J.0.5782145782145780.5535714285714290.0246431496431496CenterMidwestlost
BROYHILL, James Thomas0.5241935483870970.2716346153846150.252558933002481RightSouthgreatest
BUDGE, Hamer Harold0.5576923076923080.568103448275862-0.0104111405835543RightRockiesgreatest
BUFFETT, Howard Homan0.5166240409207160.741666666666667-0.225042625745951RightMidwestgreatest
BURDICK, Usher Lloyd0.7424242424242420.5761904761904760.166233766233766LeftMidwestmissionary
BURTON, Laurence Junior0.5072115384615380.3817567567567570.125454781704782RightRockiesgreatest
BUTLER, Hugh Alfred0.6382113821138210.641025641025641-0.00281425891181986RightMidwestmissionary
CAPEHART, Homer Earl0.5535714285714290.4679089026915110.0856625258799172CenterMidwestlost
CAPPER, Arthur0.8705882352941180.3596491228070180.5109391124871RightMidwestmissionary
CARLSON, Frank0.9583333333333330.1936274509803920.764705882352941CenterMidwestlost
CARTER, Albert Edward0.5272727272727270.30.227272727272727CenterWestmissionary
CASE, Francis Higbee0.850.4508281573498960.399171842650104RightMidwestlost
CHIPERFIELD, Robert Bruce0.6162878787878790.05405405405405410.562233824733825CenterMidwestlost
CHURCH, Ralph Edwin0.7424242424242420.875-0.132575757575758CenterMidwestlost
CLANCY, Donald Daniel0.5105691056910570.4579838340704590.0525852716205978CenterMidwestgreatest
CLASON, Charles Russell0.6931818181818180.08333333333333330.609848484848485CenterNorthlost
CLAUSEN, Donald Holst0.5355555555555560.2939567951873120.241598760368244RightWestgreatest
CLAWSON, Delwin Morgan0.5817307692307690.4303193335647340.151411435666035RightWestgreatest
CLEVENGER, Cliff0.6250.5576923076923080.0673076923076923RightMidwestlost
COLE, William Sterling0.7735042735042740.1363636363636360.637140637140637CenterNorthgreatest
COLLIER, Harold Reginald0.5820105820105820.3132183908045980.268792191205984CenterMidwestgreatest
CORBETT, Robert James0.5291858678955450.134523809523810.394662058371736CenterNorthgreatest
CORDON, Guy0.5227272727272730.3409090909090910.181818181818182RightWestlost
CRAWFORD, Fred Lewis0.8750.6666666666666670.208333333333333RightMidwestlost
CULKIN, Francis Dugan0.90.1666666666666670.733333333333333CenterNorthmissionary
CUNNINGHAM, Glenn Clarence0.55036630036630.335317460317460.21504884004884CenterMidwestgreatest
CURTIS, Carl Thomas0.6442307692307690.3280487804878050.316181988742964CenterMidwestgreatest
DAVIS, James John0.6458333333333330.4728381374722840.172995195861049RightNorthmissionary
DERWINSKI, Edward Joseph0.5782894736842110.2098693335279950.368420140156216CenterMidwestgreatest
DEVINE, Samuel Leeper0.6107142857142860.4228229379686440.187891347745642RightMidwestgreatest
DICKINSON, William Louis0.6116959064327490.2826688815060910.329027024926658CenterSouthgreatest
DIRKSEN, Everett McKinley0.6227272727272730.1950240770465490.427703195680724CenterMidwestlost
DITTER, John William0.6969696969696970.2714285714285710.425541125541126CenterNorthlost
DOLE, Robert Joseph0.5648912228057010.1653784648187630.399512757986938CenterMidwestgreatest
DONDERO, George Anthony0.7636363636363640.4065934065934070.357042957042957CenterMidwestlost
DOUGLAS, Fred James0.7923387096774190.190476190476190.601862519201229CenterNorthmissionary
DUNCAN, John James0.5661068044788970.1956521739130430.370454630565854RightSouthgreatest
DWORSHAK, Henry Clarence0.6011363636363640.666666666666667-0.0655303030303032RightRockieslost
EATON, Charles Aubrey0.7386363636363640.06250.676136363636364CenterNorthmissionary
EDWARDS, William Jackson (Jack)0.5153508771929820.180551523947750.334799353245232RightSouthsilent
ELSTON, Charles Henry0.5773237179487180.5142857142857140.0630380036630037CenterMidwestlost
ENGEL, Albert Joseph0.8219696969696970.1666666666666670.65530303030303CenterMidwestlost
FISH, Hamilton0.7142857142857140.2363636363636360.477922077922078CenterNorthlost
GEORGE, Myron Virgil0.7916666666666670.2531055900621120.538561076604555CenterMidwestlost
GIFFORD, Charles Laceille0.7388888888888890.650.0888888888888889CenterNorthmissionary
GILCHRIST, Fred Cramer0.8214285714285710.293750.527678571428571RightMidwestmissionary
GILLIE, George W.0.5567434210526320.608333333333333-0.0515899122807018CenterMidwestmissionary
GOLDWATER, Barry Morris0.7169709989258860.1323436112168510.584627387709035RightSouthwestgreatest
GRAHAM, Louis Edward0.5333333333333330.2916666666666670.241666666666667CenterNorthmissionary
GRANT, Robert Allen0.5815972222222220.4568452380952380.124751984126984CenterMidwestgreatest
GROSS, Harold Royce0.7179487179487180.6752491694352160.042699548513502RightMidwestlost
GURNEY, Edward John0.5906593406593410.2112890922959570.379370248363383RightSouthgreatest
GUYER, Ulysses Samuel0.8831168831168830.3301282051282050.552988677988678RightMidwestmissionary
GWYNNE, John Williams0.7878787878787880.5714285714285710.216450216450216RightMidwestlost
HALL, Durward Gorham0.6076576576576580.4505007704160250.157156887241633RightMidwestgreatest
HALLECK, Charles Abraham0.7346153846153850.26188257222740.472732812387985CenterMidwestlost
HANCOCK, Clarence Eugene0.6515151515151510.1552631578947370.496251993620415CenterNorthlost
HANSEN, George Vernon0.5444444444444440.3418019289578920.202642515486552RightRockiessilent
HARDEN, Cecil Murray0.5181818181818180.1712643678160920.346917450365726CenterMidwestlost
HARNESS, Forest Arthur0.6274671052631580.650724637681159-0.0232575324180015CenterMidwestlost
HARRISON, Robert Dinsmore0.6442307692307690.4642857142857140.179945054945055RightMidwestlost
HARRISON, William Henry0.5419580419580420.517783291976840.0241747499812015RightRockieslost
HARSHA, William Howard0.5298245614035090.4518139220327520.0780106393707567RightMidwestgreatest
HARTLEY, Fred Allan, Jr.0.5777777777777780.3026315789473680.275146198830409CenterNorthgreatest
HESS, William Emil0.6818181818181820.129629629629630.552188552188552CenterMidwestlost
HOFFMAN, Clare Eugene0.8090909090909090.7666666666666670.0424242424242425RightMidwestmissionary
HOFFMAN, Richard William0.6931818181818180.5584415584415580.13474025974026CenterMidwestlost
HOPE, Clifford Ragsdale0.88461538461538500.884615384615385RightMidwestlost
HRUSKA, Roman Lee0.5384615384615380.1799242424242420.358537296037296CenterMidwestgreatest
HULL, Merlin0.8666666666666670.7482517482517480.118414918414918LeftMidwestmissionary
HUTCHINSON, J. Edward0.5450395617772370.4829365079365080.0621030538407288CenterMidwestgreatest
JENKINS, Thomas Albert0.7552447552447550.2939393939393940.461305361305361CenterMidwestmissionary
JENNER, William Ezra0.5866666666666670.847222222222222-0.260555555555556RightMidwestgreatest
JENSEN, Benton Franklin0.5761904761904760.59047619047619-0.0142857142857143RightMidwestlost
JOHANSEN, August Edgar0.5178571428571430.647465437788018-0.129608294930876RightMidwestgreatest
JOHNSON, Anton Joseph0.650349650349650.776785714285714-0.126436063936064RightMidwestmissionary
JOHNSON, James Paul (Jim)0.5213122605363980.534666666666667-0.0133544061302682CenterRockiessilent
JOHNSON, Noble Jacob0.6325604838709680.584210526315790.0483499575551782CenterMidwestlost
JONES, Robert Franklin0.6250.816666666666667-0.191666666666667RightMidwestgreatest
JONKMAN, Bartel John0.6154411764705880.3111413043478260.304299872122762CenterMidwestlost
JORDAN, Leonard Beck (Len)0.7748987854251010.2700886189385640.504810166486537CenterRockieslost
KEARNS, Carroll Dudley0.5166666666666670.1710526315789470.345614035087719CenterNorthlost
KEEFE, Frank Bateman0.5861111111111110.50.086111111111111CenterMidwestlost
KINZER, John Roland0.7424242424242420.3611111111111110.381313131313131CenterNorthmissionary
KNUTSON, Harold0.8666666666666670.8219696969696970.0446969696969697RightMidwestmissionary
LAMBERTSON, William Purnell0.8295454545454550.6784989858012170.151046468744238RightMidwestmissionary
LANDIS, Gerald Wayne0.5962171052631580.5653409090909090.0308761961722488CenterMidwestlost
LANGER, William0.6679536679536680.6213282247765010.0466254431771673RightMidwestlost
LEMKE, William0.7878787878787880.7857142857142860.00216450216450215CenterMidwestmissionary
LEWIS, Earl Ramage0.5151515151515150.3920454545454550.123106060606061CenterMidwestlost
LODGE, Henry Cabot, Jr.0.5278688524590160.04976851851851850.478100333940498CenterNorthgreatest
MAAS, Melvin Joseph0.5666666666666670.3564814814814820.210185185185185CenterMidwestlost
MALONE, George Wilson0.720.75233918128655-0.0323391812865497RightRockieslost
MARTIN, David Thomas0.5562613430127040.3253818790541950.230879463958509RightMidwestgreatest
MARTIN, Joseph William, Jr.0.7555555555555560.1439393939393940.611616161616162CenterNorthlost
MARTIN, Thomas Ellsworth0.515550239234450.1548582995951420.360691939639308CenterMidwestlost
MASON, Noah Morgan0.7571428571428570.804812834224599-0.0476699770817418RightMidwestmissionary
McCULLOCH, William Moore0.5636363636363640.1702302631578950.393406100478469CenterMidwestgreatest
McLEAN, Donald Holman0.6461538461538460.1945945945945950.451559251559251CenterNorthlost
McNARY, Charles Linza0.5833333333333330.50.0833333333333333RightWestmissionary
McVEY, William Estus0.6060606060606060.5840455840455840.0220150220150219CenterMidwestlost
MICHEL, Robert Henry0.6099624060150380.1459595959595960.464002810055442CenterMidwestgreatest
MICHENER, Earl Cory0.8212121212121210.1778846153846150.643327505827506CenterMidwestmissionary
MILLER, Jack Richard0.5549450549450550.1973029233414790.357642131603576CenterMidwestgreatest
MOORE, Arch Alfred, Jr.0.5449735449735450.4650238473767890.0799496975967563CenterSouthgreatest
MORSE, Wayne Lyman0.5263157894736840.1764705882352940.34984520123839LeftWestlost
MOTT, James Wheaton0.550.02777777777777780.522222222222222CenterWestlost
MUNDT, Karl Earl0.5306818181818180.1587084148727980.37197340330902CenterMidwestlost
MURRAY, Reid Fred0.6742424242424240.5416666666666670.132575757575758CenterMidwestlost
NELSON, Charles Pembroke0.5555555555555560.4772727272727270.0782828282828283CenterNorthgreatest
NYE, Gerald Prentice0.8888888888888890.5843454790823210.304543409806568RightMidwestlost
O'KONSKI, Alvin Edward0.5964912280701750.5017543859649120.0947368421052631RightMidwestgreatest
OSMERS, Frank Charles, Jr.0.6451048951048950.05361305361305360.591491841491842CenterNorthgreatest
PAUL, Ronald Ernest0.735794183445190.7217846633200620.0140095201251278RightSouthwestsilent
PITTENGER, William Alvin0.569696969696970.3989473684210530.170749601275917CenterMidwestlost
PLUMLEY, Charles Albert0.6969696969696970.3626373626373630.334332334332334CenterNorthmissionary
POWERS, David Lane0.730303030303030.1421568627450980.588146167557932CenterNorthlost
PRESSLER, Larry Lee0.5315407973356840.2354077825159910.296133014819693CenterMidwestsilent
QUILLEN, James Henry0.5733333333333330.2866300366300370.286703296703297RightSouthgreatest
REECE, Brazilla Carroll0.6318181818181820.3994708994708990.232347282347282RightSouthlost
REED, Chauncey William0.7090909090909090.50.209090909090909CenterMidwestlost
REED, Clyde Martin0.7249169435215950.1405228758169930.584394067704601RightMidwestmissionary
REED, Daniel Alden0.750.4851190476190480.264880952380952RightNorthmissionary
REES, Edward Herbert0.8787878787878790.4413793103448280.437408568443051CenterMidwestlost
REID, Charlotte Thompson0.58156498673740.23240165631470.349163330422701CenterMidwestgreatest
REVERCOMB, William Chapman0.7356459330143540.5335497835497840.202096149464571RightSouthlost
RICH, Robert Fleming0.9583333333333330.8376623376623380.120670995670996RightNorthlost
ROBSION, John Marshall0.7167832167832170.741071428571429-0.0242882117882117RightSouthmissionary
RODGERS, Robert Lewis0.510080645161290.3195488721804510.190531772980839CenterNorthmissionary
ROUDEBUSH, Richard Lowell0.5582844574780060.3950892857142860.16319517176372RightMidwestgreatest
ROUSSELOT, John Harbin0.6556776556776560.3536437246963560.302033930981299RightWestgreatest
SCHADEBERG, Henry Carl0.6152228763666950.4405878674171360.174635008949559CenterMidwestgreatest
SCHERLE, William Joseph0.5066782810685250.4750337381916330.0316445428768921RightMidwestgreatest
SCHOEPPEL, Andrew Frank0.6623529411764710.593750.0686029411764706RightMidwestlost
SCRIVNER, Errett Power0.6133333333333330.4675925925925930.145740740740741CenterMidwestlost
SHAFER, Paul Werntz0.8615384615384620.5833333333333330.278205128205128CenterMidwestlost
SHEEHAN, Timothy Patrick0.6181818181818180.5769230769230770.0412587412587413CenterMidwestgreatest
SHIPSTEAD, Henrik0.8333333333333330.848684210526316-0.0153508771929824RightMidwestmissionary
SHORT, Dewey Jackson0.6969696969696970.50.196969696969697RightMidwestlost
SHUSTER, E. G. (Bud)0.5659785732950090.2947990543735220.271179518921487RightNorthsilent
SILER, Eugene0.580.634848484848485-0.0548484848484847RightSouthlost
SIMPSON, Richard Murray0.650.2033333333333330.446666666666667CenterNorthlost
SKUBITZ, Joe0.5094537815126050.3638308582934810.145622923219124RightMidwestgreatest
SMITH, Frederick Cleveland0.6840909090909090.964285714285714-0.280194805194805RightMidwestlost
SMITH, H. Allen0.5952380952380950.342190016103060.253048079135036RightWestgreatest
SMITH, Wint0.7833333333333330.6458333333333330.1375RightMidwestlost
SNYDER, Marion Gene0.590722495894910.3196016771488470.271120818746063RightSouthsilent
SPRINGER, Raymond Smiley0.5939393939393940.7-0.106060606060606CenterMidwestmissionary
STEFAN, Karl0.9230769230769230.5961538461538460.326923076923077RightMidwestlost
SUMNER, Jessie0.6636363636363640.696524064171123-0.0328877005347594RightMidwestlost
SYMMS, Steven Douglas0.5811444652908070.197865811131260.383278654159547RightRockiessilent
TABER, John0.679487179487180.4175824175824180.261904761904762RightNorthmissionary
TAFT, Robert Alphonso0.6336846213895390.1764705882352940.457214033154245CenterMidwestlost
TALLE, Henry Oscar0.531250.4370370370370370.094212962962963CenterMidwestlost
TAYLOR, Gene0.5156641604010020.2301521614566750.285511998944327RightMidwestsilent
THOMAS, John0.6953947368421050.593750.101644736842105RightRockiesmissionary
THOMAS, John Parnell0.6314935064935070.2337662337662340.397727272727273CenterNorthlost
THOMSON, Vernon Wallace0.5333333333333330.1771456123432980.356187720990035CenterMidwestgreatest
TIBBOTT, Harve0.5256756756756760.315476190476190.210199485199485CenterNorthlost
TOBEY, Charles William0.950.50.45CenterNorthmissionary
TOWER, John Goodwin0.77343750.1129032258064520.660534274193548CenterSouthwestgreatest
TREADWAY, Allen Towner0.7013888888888890.2222222222222220.479166666666667CenterNorthmissionary
UTT, James Boyd0.5166666666666670.55-0.0333333333333334RightWestlost
VAN PELT, William Kaiser0.6130952380952380.636904761904762-0.0238095238095237RightMidwestgreatest
VAN ZANDT, James Edward0.5043859649122810.04819976771196280.456186197200318CenterNorthlost
VANDENBERG, Arthur Hendrick0.6785714285714290.0250.653571428571429CenterMidwestlost
VELDE, Harold Himmel0.6258741258741260.3106060606060610.315268065268065CenterMidwestgreatest
VORYS, John Martin0.5512820512820510.1310541310541310.42022792022792CenterMidwestlost
VURSELL, Charles Wesley0.5183823529411760.109890109890110.408492243051067CenterMidwestmissionary
WEAVER, Phillip Hart0.5164835164835160.4342105263157890.0822729901677269RightMidwestgreatest
WHERRY, Kenneth Spicer0.825163398692810.690476190476190.13468720821662RightMidwestlost
WIGGLESWORTH, Richard Bowditch0.5032467532467530.07142857142857140.431818181818182CenterNorthlost
WILEY, Alexander0.7253968253968250.1066715542521990.618725271144626CenterMidwestlost
WILLIAMS, John James0.7046783625730990.4285994251371830.276078937435916RightSouthgreatest
WINTER, Thomas Daniel0.6235632183908050.5487012987012990.074861919689506RightMidwestlost
WITHROW, Gardner Robert0.7237762237762240.5747126436781610.149063580098063CenterMidwestlost
WOLCOTT, Jesse Paine0.7333333333333330.1964285714285710.536904761904762CenterMidwestlost
WOLFENDEN, James0.8181818181818180.3290441176470590.489137700534759CenterNorthlost
WOLVERTON, Charles Anderson0.5318181818181820.1291666666666670.402651515151515CenterNorthmissionary
WOODRUFF, Roy Orchard0.6916666666666670.6461538461538460.0455128205128206RightMidwestmissionary
WYMAN, Louis Crosby0.5003840245775730.2962328767123290.204151147865244CenterNorthgreatest

I then took the oppositional average of each member’s first two and last two congresses. 200 Republican Representatives or Senators met the threshold, having served at least eight congresses and averaged an opposition to U.S. foreign policy above 50% during the start of their careers. Of those 200, 132 of them finished their careers (last two congresses) with an opposition percentage below 50%.

However, looking at our members’ generational and ideological components makes for a more complicated picture. There is a strong trend toward political centrism among those that evolved into interventionism. Of those 132 who “flipped,” 91 were within the party’s moderate core. A mere 40 who turned into interventionists could be considered on the party’s right flank.

There also appears to be have been a robust generational component at play. Members of the Greatest and Silent generations seem to be over-represented among those right-of-center Republicans who started their careers as noninterventionists but drifted into interventionism.

200 Republicans from our sample started their careers as noninterventionists, having averaged 50% opposition to U.S. foreign policy. One hundred thirty-two of them would evolve into interventionists by the end of their career. Each dot represents a Republican Senator or Congressperson. The x-axis places them on a two-dimensional political spectrum. The y-axis places them on their mean opposition percentage upon ending their career; the lower the number, the lower the opposition. Each dot is colored by generational cohort: Progressive (1860-1882), Lost (1883-1900), Greatest (1901-1927), and Silent (1928-1945). Each dot is sized by the members starting oppositional average; the more significant the dot, the higher their starting opposition.

Plotting these members over time makes the evolution more apparent. Younger right-wing Republicans were considerably more likely to end their careers as interventionists despite beginning as noninterventionists.

Older right-wing noninterventionists largely stayed the course despite the events of the Cold War. Their attitudes appeared less prone to change due to the course of events or the presence of a Republican in the White House (Nixon or Eisenhower). Right-wing noninterventionists of the Missionary or Lost generations were over twice as likely to end their congressional careers as they started them, opposed to U.S. foreign policy. Nineteen of those members increased their opposition throughout their careers (as opposed to only seven centrists). Even among those that did moderate themselves, most did not finish far below the 50% threshold.

200 Republicans from our sample started their careers as noninterventionists, having averaged 50% opposition to U.S. foreign policy. One hundred thirty-two of them would evolve into interventionists by the end of their career. Each dot represents a Republican Senator or Congressperson. The x-axis plots each member by their final Congress served; the y-axis plots each member by their mean opposition at the end of their career. Each member is sized by the number of congresses served and colorized by their generation. The oppositional histories of right-wing Republicans of the Greatest and Silent generations appear to be motivated by the events of Vietnam. Their opposition to U.S. foreign policy did not survive the Vietnam era. However, their Old Right forebears largely stayed the course in their noninterventionism despite the events of the early Cold War. Conversely, the center of the GOP appears to have changed significantly due to U.S. entry into WWII and the Korean War.

Conversely, centrist Republicans evolved in their foreign policy thinking considerably earlier, either during or due to World War II and the Korean War. The thesis that holds that the GOP turned towards interventionism only holds true for the party’s moderate core.

However, the Republican right essentially held on to its noninterventionist worldview despite the occurrences of early the Cold War. The right flank of the GOP would not fully convert into interventionism until a new generation of conservatives took office.

The New Right’s early opposition to U.S. foreign policy was a mirage and was less rooted in principle than the “isolationism” of the Old Right. During the height of the Vietnam War, Republican opposition to U.S. foreign policy was often purely partisan. Members in the House and the Senate would often rationalize their desire to cut foreign aid and other programs because of the cost of fighting in Southeast Asia. There was also a desire among Republicans to obstruct the Johnson administration. For many Republicans, the military’s failure in Vietnam could be laid at the door of the White House. As such, the right’s generalized opposition to American foreign policy was a redirected frustration with the Vietnam War.

This contextual opposition is manifested in their voting records. There is a noticeable gap between the Republican party’s total foreign policy opposition v. their final vote opposition on the eve of the Vietnam War and through its escalation. Many Republicans would vote to cut funding or otherwise limit programs during floor amendments while ultimately voting “yay” on the final rollcall vote.

While such limited opposition was not new to the Vietnam era, its escalation suggests that GOP’s opposition to foreign policy became more political and less principled as a new generation of Republicans took office. Right-wing Republicans of the Missionary and Lost generations were considerably more likely to vote on principle and politics. Their opposition remained high throughout the early Cold War despite events and a Republican in the White House (Eisenhower, 1953-1961).

This figure depicts the average level of Republican opposition to U.S. foreign policy from the 74th Congress (1935-1937) until the 102nd Congress (1991-1993. The x-axis denotes the Congress, and the y-axis is the average level of opposition within that Congress. The graphic depicts two types of opposition. The first, shown in red, illustrates all oppositional votes to include rollcall votes on floor amendments meant to expand or contract foreign policy or defense programs. The second, depicted in blue, is for final rollcall votes only. The distance between the GOP’s total foreign policy opposition and its final vote opposition grew on the eve of the Vietnam War and remained high throughout the conflict. This suggests that the party softened its principled opposition to U.S. foreign policy.

This gap between principled and political opposition manifested itself on the campaign trail as well. In 1968, retired Republican representative Eugene Siler (K.Y.) decided to run for an open Senate seat vacated by Thurston Morton. Siler was the only dissenting vote within the U.S. House on the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Additionally, Siler opposed the legislative precursors explicitly mentioned in that resolution. He voted against the delegation of authority to the president to defend the Republic of China’s redoubt on the island of Formosa (Taiwan), one of only three representatives to vote no. He also opposed the Eisenhower Doctrine, which expanded the U.S. government’s footprint within the Middle East and delegated to the president the authority to use military force in the region. Siler is the only Representative to oppose all three. In addition to these landmarks, he consistently voted against measures that unilaterally vested power in the executive branch to make foreign policy decisions and opposed most U.S. foreign aid programs.

When Siler formerly accounted for his candidacy he led with a policy on Vietnam that called for a gradual withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the conflict. Siler also used his announcement to take shots at his assumed rivals, many of whom had become newfound opponents of the war. He quipped that “another ahead-of-my-time viewpoint I have maintained for several years is that we ought to be waging peace instead of war,” and added, “I never believed we should fight any wars except defensive ones.” After a winnowing of the field, the primary came down to Eugene Siler and lawyer Marlow Cook.

The juxtaposition between these two men was symbolic of the ideological, cultural, and generational divisions within the Republican Party. Cook (born, 1926), a former state legislator, was a transplant from upstate New York and resident of Kentucky’s largest city, Louisville. Siler was a native-born Kentuckian (1900) and a self-described hillbilly. Cook was Catholic, Siler was Protestant. The localities that these men represented were more than mere geographical regions but embodied the two power bases of the Kentucky GOP, one static and the other ascendant. Siler’s rural 5th district had for decades constituted the party’s predominant source of votes in statewide elections and had continuously sent a Republican representative to Washington for over 30 years. Cook’s Jefferson County (which contained Louisville) was one of the many growing suburban hubs of the Republican party and its New Right coalition.

Siler’s platform reflected the growing rift between the party’s two wings. Despite Siler’s opposition to Vietnam, his political views were outside the mainstream, even in a conservative state such as Kentucky. In addition to his opposition to war and foreign aid, Siler supported a balanced budget without caveats and advocated for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces stationed in Europe. Campaign watchers also considered Siler’s social and religious conservatism a political handicap. He was a proud teetotaler (a liability in a state known for its Bourbon), personally opposed divorce, and supported religious instruction in public schools. Cook lacked some of the conservative baggage exhibited by Siler but also dissented on the war in Vietnam (albeit for political reasons). Cook was initially noncommitted to the conflict. During an early debate between the two candidates, Siler declared the conflict “immoral and unconstitutional,” and Cook declined to comment due to ongoing negotiations.

Cook made his position clear as the campaign wore on, but it contrasted significantly to Siler’s. Like the outgoing Thurston Morton, he couched his opposition in the language of political frustration with the Johnson administration and its prosecution of the war. By May 1968, he advocated for withdrawal because the United States could not win “a war conducted by the State Department and Executive Branch.” If the military isn’t going to be allowed to win, “he declared, “we ought to get out.

Cook’s position was roughly corresponded to what the American which had grown weary of the war by 1968, as its cost in American blood and treasure mounted. Cook’s moderate domestic positions, coupled with a mainstream opposition to the war, meant that he courted a more comprehensive array of voters. His positions negated any political advantage that Siler might have from his antiwar stance.

As a result, Siler was soundly defeated by Marlow Cook on Tuesday, 28 May 1968. After spending 13 times as much on his campaign, Marlow Cook earned almost twice the votes. A lack of institutional party support further hamstrung Siler. Initial postmortems of his campaign from voters and local political commentators cited his age, conservatism, localism, and “peculiar brand of isolationism” as reasons for his defeat. Cook would beat his Democratic opponent, Katherine Peden, in the general election. From the 91st until 93rd Congresses, Cook posted a mere 32% opposition to U.S. foreign policy.

The divisiveness of the war in Vietnam and its association with the Johnson administration allowed moderates like Morton to assail the war without questioning its underlying assumptions, along with the political programs which preceded it. Meanwhile, Siler, who opposed the war from the start based on long-standing principles, was undercut and politically hamstrung by his conservative worldview.

A similar phenomenon occurred within the Democratic party. Elite members of the liberal establishment and the Democratic party argued that the failure of Vietnam ought not to be used to question the entirety of the American postwar empire and undermine “the cherished lessons of the thirties, [and] the war years.” In both parties, the Overton Window was narrowed, and the lessons of Vietnam were firmly attenuated into the realms of strategy or tactics, not moralism or constitutionality.

If we fast forward to those who entered office after the Vietnam War, we can see the generational transformation of the Republican party continued until right-wing noninterventionism was (almost) completely extinguished. Of the 349 Republicans from the Silent and Boomer generations who started their careers after the 90th Congress (1967-1969), only seven would post an opposition percentage above 50%. And, of them, none were Boomers, and only one of them, Ron Paul (Silent generation, born 1935), would serve into and beyond the Reagan era. During the Second Cold War, on the issue of foreign policy, younger Republicans voted more like Old Left Democrats than their conservative forebears.

RankPartyGenerationOpposition %NumberAvg. Birth Year% of Body
After a wave of partisan Republican foreign policy opposition, later generations of the GOP settled into broad support for U.S. foreign policy goals during the Reagan era. Later Democratic opposition was elevated compared to the positions of the Old Left. However, they settled into a range just above the New Right.

So, what the hell happened? How is it that the center of the GOP was much more inclined to moderate itself due to the course of world events, while the Republican right was considerably less likely to do so? And why did it only transform after Vietnam?

Furthermore, why did it take a full generation for the Republican right to transform into interventionism, and why wasn’t the Old Right’s noninterventionism transmitted into later generations of conservatives?

I have a couple of hypotheses. First, is the “gatekeeping” function performed by conservative intellectuals like National Review’s William F. Buckley. Buckley exiled out of the conservative movement “ultra-right” figures like the John Birch Society, antiwar libertarians like Murray Rothbard, and radical individualists like Ayn Rand. Despite the flaws of these individuals, they all held on various heterodox (and prescient) ideas about the role of the U.S. in the world. The result of these purges was likely the expulsion of noninterventionism from the political and intellectual machinery of the emerging conservative movement.

A similar explanation may also lie with the machinations of Democratic presidents and regulatory agencies of the U.S. government. During the 1960s, the Federal Communications Commission used the politically motivated and selective enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine to undermine the first generation of conservative talk radio. Many of these radio commentators, like the controversial Dan Smoot, held on to deeply rooted noninterventionist ideas about foreign policy (despite their staunch anti-communism). The Internal Revenue Service also got in on the act and initiated politically motivated audits at the behest of President John F. Kennedy.

The combination of these purges and censorship, paired with the nationalization of the party politics, broke chains of transmission of noninterventionism within the political culture of the Republican right…or so goes my theory. Either way, the transformation of the Republican party was not merely a response to events but a long-term evolution of political culture between generations of political actors.

The goal now, for the sake of the dissertation, is to discover why…and how did these noninterventionist ideas survive their political exile.

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