New START’s Victory Over The Tea Party

romney_geer_natdeThe New START treaty just crossed a major hurdle. Senator Bob Corker and Senator Johnny Isakson joined with Senator Lugar in supporting the New START treaty in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote this morning. In this heated partisan climate, this is a tremendous achievement and should make the ratification of New START all but inevitable on the Senate floor.

Most political pundits doubted the ability of the administration and Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN) and John Kerry (D-MA) to convince Republicans to vote for the treaty. Yet a weight of evidence was built up and strong grassroots efforts were mobilized such that opposition to the treaty was only taken up by the most extreme.

The civil war within the Republican party that has now been exposed by the victory of Christine O’Donnell over moderate Mike Castle in Delaware yesterday has been present from the beginning in the debate over New START.

The New START treaty has been supported by the most senior former Republican national security officials and has the unanimous support of the military. However, it faced opposition from the far-right on ideological grounds. The Heritage Foundation sought to mobilize tea-party supporters. Its fellow James Carafano pleaded for tea-party support in column after column. Much was made of the Heritage Foundation’s new action fund Heritage Action For America which sought to tap into the tea-party energy and made killing START at the top of its priorities. Far right Republican Senators like Jim DeMint and James Inhofe almost immediately opposed the treaty on largely ideological grounds – Demint for instance wants to target our missile defenses against Russia, essentially creating a new nuclear arms race.

These right-wing opponents sought to nitpick the treaty to death about missile defense and nuclear forces, but as the facts came out it became increasingly clear none of these arguments held any water. This was most evident by Mitt Romney’s foray into the debate in July. His Washington Post op-ed was riddled with errors and was so extreme that he got hit from all sides.

By the end of July the majority of Republicans in the Senate that were engaged on New START had stopped making substantive arguments against the treaty. Instead, many issued positive statements that they supported the treaty and were hoping to vote for it – these senators included Corker, Isakson, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Bob Bennett (R-UT), and even Jon Kyl (R-AZ). There was a catch however. And that was Republicans were tying the treaty to more funding for the nuclear weapons complex – an issue that has nothing to do with the specifics of the treaty. While the fight over nuclear funding is ongoing, what is clear is that the far-right failed to win over their party and convince them to blanketly oppose the treaty on ideological grounds.

With the vote of Corker and Isakson, it’s clear the far-right’s effort to mobilize their tea-party base and hold the line on New START has failed.