Skip To Content

How Hillary Clinton Is Winning Over Neocons — and Why She Will Disappoint Them

Hillary Clinton is racking up supporters. From the Republican side, that is.

As the parties national conventions draw nearer, Clinton has not only increased her lead in national polls but has also gained some unexpected praise from security-minded Republicans and from critics of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

Conservative pundit Jennifer Rubin, who has rarely written a positive word about Clinton or about Democrats in general, found herself Tuesday praising Clinton for her stance against inserting pro-Palestinian language into the party’s platform. “Clinton would return to the bipartisan, pro-Israel stance — albeit with a dose of unrealism about a two-state solution — in place before the Obama presidency,” Rubin wrote in her Washington Post column, moving on to highlight Clinton’s foreign policy policies that fall in line with her own worldview.

“She does not travel around the globe bemoaning America’s past sins. She derides the notion — held by both Donald Trump and Obama — that we are burdened by ‘free riders,’ namely allies. She speaks forthrightly about America’s leadership in the world, does not think Islamist terrorism is a figment of our imagination goosed up by cable TV,” Rubin wrote, “and was opposed to a policy of indifference that allowed the humanitarian and geopolitical disaster to unfold in Syria.”

In other words, Clinton is the dream candidate of every neo-conservative, or “Republcian internationalists,” as Rubin calls them.

Dissatisfaction among Republican policy elites with Trump has been festering ever since it became clear he is poised to become the party’s presidential standard-bearer.

But while at first it translated into a broad reluctance to vote for Trump, and in some cases, such as with Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, a frantic drive to find an outside candidate to challenge Trump, there are now some who are looking positively at Clinton as an alternative who meets their conservative foreign policy values.

This favorable look at Clinton by no means indicates a massive exodus of discontent conservatives from the GOP toward Clinton’s camp. But it may help lay the ideological groundwork for those considering a vote for Clinton in November.

Clinton’s policies check many of the boxes in neo-conservatism’s foreign policy list: an emphasis on America’s global standing, support for the use of military force to achieve this standing if needed, and strengthening alliances with likeminded democratic allies to contain and confront regional and global threats. Many security-focused Republicans also look at military spending as a litmus test, and, of course, at support for Israel and its policies in the region.

“Hillary Clinton would more closely follow the model of her husband, as opposed to President Obama, for whom creating differences with Israel in public was a fairly natural part of his administration,” said former top Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross in a briefing he held in Jerusalem earlier this week. Ross most recent administration position was as Obama’s top Middle East adviser.

“I think Hillary Clinton is in favor of a muscular foreign policy, slightly more than Obama was. So I’m comfortable voting for her,” Alan Dershowitz, a Democrat who had been an outspoken critic of Obama’s policies toward Israel, said in an interview with Brietbart “I have never been 100 percent comfortable voting for any candidate for president.”

Clinton’s appeal to internationalist Republicans is already apparent. Robert Kagan, a neoconservative icon, will help raise funds for Clinton at a Washington event next month, and conservative columnists such as James Kirchik have already declared that Clinton is their favorite.

Can Clinton deliver on the hopes security hawks are pinning on her presidency?

Her past may suggest Clinton will live up, if elected, to Dershowitz’s vision of a “muscular foreign policy.” She voted in favor of the Iraq war and was tough on Iran. As secretary of state, despite her shouting matches with Benjamin Netanyahu, Clinton, as opposed to her boss Obama, was not perceived by Israelis as purposely wishing to distance Israel. In addition, her support for establishing no-fly zones in Syria, a move which would entail deployment of American troops, could suggest a renewed era of more robust American military intervention in the Middle East.

But even if Clinton’s personal inclinations lean toward a foreign policy more palatable to conservative defense hawks, a Clinton administration would look nothing like that of George W. Bush.

First, despite her early support for the Iraq war, Clinton, like most Democrats who held that view, grew skeptical of America’s ability to shape the Middle East and engage in nation building. And for that matter, limited military intervention in Syria does not necessarily suggest an overall willingness to engage in conflicts in other parts of the region.

On Iran, while vowing to keep a watchful eye on Tehran’s adherence to the nuclear deal and to continue pressuring Iranian leaders to move forward on other issues in dispute, Clinton supported the nuclear deal, and more important, will enter the White House, if elected, with an agreement already approved and implemented. So the dream of some Republicans to “shred the deal” on day one, is one that Clinton can’t and won’t make real.

And then there are the advisers.

Neoconservatives, former Bush administration foreign policy officials and security-minded pundits might see many positives in Clinton’s approach to world affairs. Some even believe that Clinton is the closest they can get to actually realizing their policy goals.

But none of them will be sitting around the table in a Clinton administration.

Neoconservatives’ ability to impact American policy during the Bush years did not stem from a broad acceptance of their philosophy, but rather from them holding key positions in the administration’s foreign policy and national security agencies.

Clinton has her own people. Some have worked with her at the State Department, some have known her even before when she was a senator and First Lady. None of them come from the Republican internationalist circles.

Contact Nathan Guttman at [email protected] or on Twitter @nathanguttman

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.