Noninterventionism, Committees, and Productive Procrastination

Rather than polish off my first dissertation draft (as a disciplined person might) I have spent the last couple of days running down some data rabbit holes. Because some days you just don’t have your fastball (writing) and you’ve got to lean on your change-up (computation)…or at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself.

I’ve been digging into the “Database of [United States] Congressional Historical Statistics, 1789-1989 (ICPSR 3371).” Among its datasets is a roster of House and Senate committee membership. Using this data, I am curious if I can glean any insights into the Republican party’s transformation into interventionism in the wake of the Second World War. There are a number of committees related to America’s role in the world. I compiled a list of these committees (see below), extracted the membership data, and compared it to the ideological data from VoteView’s dataset.

In the upside-down world of the Old Right, conservatism was highly correlated with noninterventionism. During the interwar period, WWII, and the nascent Cold War, the more conservative a Republican, the more likely they were to be a noninterventionist. Conversely, America’s push into World War II, the early Cold War, and the national security state was a largely Democratic, liberal Republican, and internationalist political project.

The Republican party began the 20th century as a significantly right-of-center party, gradually tacked to the center-left, and moved back to the center-right on the eve of the Reagan Era. During this time Republican attitudes towards America’s role in the world changed dramatically, especially for the Republican right. During the formative years of the Cold War, the Republican Senate representation in key foreign policy committees was significantly more liberal than the party at large, during a time in which conservativism was highly-correlated with noninterventionism.

However, the GOP tacked to the center throughout much of the early 20th Century. The party only began to tack back to the right on the eve of the Reagan Revolution. Yet this return to the right was fueled by the New Right, which held fundamentally different views of America in the world.

The Republican cohort within the Senate was also noticeably more conservative than the party from 1917 until 1949. However, until the Nixon era, Republicans in the Senate were significantly more liberal than the party writ large.

This divide is even starker within Republican representation in the various Senate foreign policy committees. The ideological composition of those members was dramatically more liberal during the formative years of the Cold War orthodoxy (79th to 85th Congress, 1945 to 1957).

What might account for this? 16 Republicans who had an oppositional voting record on foreign policy (voted in opposition more than 50% during their careers) and who served on one or more of these committees left office during this period. Only five of them did so via electoral or primary defeat. The rest either retired or died in office; eight left Congress via the morgue and not the ballot box. All but two of them were right-of-center.

NameCareer Oppo %Ideological ScoreReason for Leaving CongressRegion
1CAPPER, Arthur0.66492150.812Either did not seek reelection,  retired, or not a candidateMidwest
2ROBERTSON, Edward Vivian0.61224490.772Defeated in generalRockies
3WILSON, George Allison0.60869570.589Defeated in generalMidwest
4TOBEY, Charles William0.5051546-0.632Died in officeNorth
5TAFT, Robert Alphonso0.5741627-0.328Died in officeMidwest
6JOHNSON, Hiram Warren0.73239441.008Died in officeWest
7THOMAS, John0.65686270.839Died in officeRockies
8SHIPSTEAD, Henrik0.77160491.188Was not renominated or lost in the primaryMidwest
9BROOKS, Charles Wayland0.57731960.388Defeated in generalMidwest
10BUSHFIELD, Harlan John0.72340430.950Died in officeMidwest
11HAWKES, Albert Wahl0.58181820.370Either did not seek reelection,  retired, or not a candidateNorth
12WILLIS, Raymond Eugene0.66250000.412Either did not seek reelection,  retired, or not a candidateMidwest
13BUTLER, Hugh Alfred0.65034970.624Died in officeMidwest
14REED, Clyde Martin0.56818180.356Died in officeMidwest
15WHERRY, Kenneth Spicer0.70652170.765Died in officeMidwest
16LA FOLLETTE, Robert Marion, Jr.0.64285710.998Was not renominated or lost in the primaryMidwest
This is a roster of Republicans who sat on foreign policy committees who departed congress between 1945 and 1955 and who voted in opposition to U.S. foreign policy goals more than 50% of the time during their congressional careers. Note the significant numbers of those who died while in office. The columns are as follows, the person’s name, their foreign policy opposition score (as determined by my own analysis), their ideological score as compiled from (the higher the number the more conservative), their reason for leaving Congress, and the regional of the country from which they hailed.

From my research, only one of those who died in office was succeeded (either by appointment or replacement) by a like-minded interventionist. And, as in the case of “Mr. Republican” Sen. Robert A. Taft, was replaced by a liberal Democrat, Thomas A. Burke. Sen. Burke’s career was short-lived, but he did however in effect cast the deciding vote in the failed Bricker Amendment. However important his vote on the Bricker Amendment, Burke‚Äôs time in the Senate was short-lived as he was defeated by a moderate Republican and interventionist convert, George H. Bender

Was there was a conspiracy to replace these departed “isolationists” with more liberally minded internationalists? I cannot tell; however, in some sources I’ve encountered, the foreign policy views of potential replacements were discussed by Republican governors or gubernatorial candidates who would have been in a position to replace them. And indeed, the mood of the national Republican party by 1948 (and definitely by 1953) was one of interventionism; this may have impacted the processes of appointment.

All of this is to say that the Republican right’s turn towards militarism and interventionism was not a fait accompli dictated by events, nor was it the outcome of materialist causes. It resulted from human action in intraparty politics, coupled with some well-timed happenstance.

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