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Sending Troops into Mexico Is Now Mainstream GOP Policy
Plus: A long-ago Vivek email on his Soros scholarship.
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Today’s Press Pass examines militaristic policy proposals to send U.S. troops into Mexico to fight drug cartels, an idea that is difficult to reconcile with the GOP’s increasingly noninterventionist stance regarding other crises around the globe. We’ll also take a look at an old email sent by Vivek Ramaswamy that a tipster passed along to us, which requires some important context. All that and more below.
Ronald the dove, Haley the hawk
During last week’s Republican primary debate, Ron DeSantis said that, if elected, he would send U.S. Special Forces into Mexico to fight against the drug cartels on “Day One” of his presidency. This might seem like a fringe idea—sending troops across the southern border to kill people in a country that is one of our largest trading partners—but lately it has grown into something like a mainstream Republican policy position.
DeSantis isn’t alone in having Sicario daydreams. Nikki Haley has also pledged to send troops to fight in Mexico. According to Fox News:
"When it comes to the cartels, we should treat them like the terrorists that they are," Haley told Fox News Digital in a recent interview. "I would send special operations in there and eliminate them just like we eliminated ISIS and make sure that they know there's no place for them."
"If Mexico won't deal with it, I'll make sure I deal with it," she added.
This isn’t just primary politics. As I’ve discussed before, there are now multiple bills floating around Congress that would authorize just this sort of aggression. Top Republicans in Congress have expressed support for direct military action against the cartels, and Donald Trump confided in his defense secretary a desire to launch missiles into Mexico. (The former president was particularly interested in the idea that American responsibility for such an action could be kept secret.)
“One of the things we learned post-Trump presidency is that he had ordered a bombing of a couple of fentanyl labs, crystal meth labs, in Mexico, just across the border, and for whatever reason the military didn’t do it,” House Oversight Chairman James Comer said in a March interview on Fox News. “I think that was a mistake.”
A joint resolution submitted by Reps. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) and Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) would authorize the use of military force against a set list of Mexican drug cartels. When I spoke to Crenshaw about it a while back, he said the bill is just a first step, and its primary function would be to enable the president to begin crafting a strategy to more aggressively take on the cartels. Crenshaw also said the bill had become necessary because of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s inaction. Waltz’s comments to me at the time were less restrained: He characterized Mexico as “an ungoverned narcoterrorist state directly on our border” and suggested we wouldn’t hesitate to deploy troops there if ISIS or al Qaeda were the ones sending fentanyl across the border.
Speaking of terrorism, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and several other Senate Republicans have introduced a bill that would designate Mexican cartels as foreign terrorist organizations.
These proposals create a massive risk for the United States. Diplomats and experts reacted sharply to DeSantis’s debate comments, criticizing the idea of American military intervention on Mexican soil against the cartels as incredibly dangerous. According to CNN:
Vanda Felbab-Brown, director of the Brookings Institution’s Initiative on Nonstate Armed Actors, explained that designating the cartels as a foreign terrorist organization would allow “for lethal action,” though that “doesn’t eliminate the diplomatic controversy and outrage in Mexico that any Mexican government would have.”
Such a designation could have “major implications for trade,” Felbab-Brown said.
“We can say what we want on our side – from the perspective of the Mexican government and Mexican military, that would be very much seen as a massive violation of sovereignty,” she said.
Earl Anthony Wayne, a career diplomat who was the US ambassador to Mexico from 2011 to 2015, echoed that sentiment, saying US military action in Mexico has been “an extremely sensitive issue” for years.
“Doing this in the way that he sounded like he was going to do it would create a massive crisis with Mexico,” Wayne said of DeSantis’ comments. “Whoever’s in charge” of Mexico, even if it were someone with a good relationship with the US, “would be forced to take drastic action and close the borders or do other things.”
This larger Republican shift towards accepting more violent relations with Mexico typifies the GOP’s current phase of policy confusion. Presidential candidates and Republican elected officials alike are increasingly dovish when it comes to the question of whether to continue supporting the Ukrainians’ in their fight against the Russian invasion. Trump flirted with the idea of withdrawing from NATO altogether as president, and just last year, 63 House Republicans voted against a resolution affirming support for the alliance.
That’s why it’s hard to broadly paint this new generation of populist Republicans as isolationists. They are not isolationists in the slightest when it comes to Mexico, have mixed feelings when it comes to Taiwan, and are rapidly abandoning a democratic government in Ukraine to the belligerent actions of its authoritarian neighbor.
Of course, there is one unifying thread linking these otherwise contradictory positions. Whatever cause Democrats are for as a matter of principle, Republicans are against as a matter of politics.
But his emails
A tipster passed along this email Vivek Ramaswamy sent in 2011 while a student at Yale Law. In the email, Ramaswamy encouraged younger students to attend a Q&A seminar with the director of the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans; his own Soros fellowship had supported him in pursuing his law degree. (Paul Soros was the older brother of billionaire/philanthropist George Soros; he died in 2013.)
This is a great opportunity and may be of interest to current 1L students next fall. The information session will be an informal Q&A with the Director of the Fellowship, who will be visiting Yale's campus on April 5th.
Soros Fellowship Q&A session
April 5th (Tuesday), 12 pm
Yale Law School, Room 112
The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship For New Americans is a 2-year fellowship, worth up to $90,000, for students pursuing any academic discipline or professional field. Students that are new Americans, immigrants, or children of immigrants, and are no more than 2 years into a graduate program may apply. At this Q&A session, the Director of the Soros Fellowship and current fellows at Yale will discuss the fellowship benefits, selection criteria, and application tips. Undergraduates (juniors and seniors) with graduate school plans and first year graduate students are highly encouraged to attend.
Please see the program's website for further information:
This email is the kind of thing an opposition researcher would salivate over so they could discreetly pass it along to a writer at conservative content farm, where it would become fodder for a story with a salacious headline about Ramaswamy’s “connections” to George Soros, the Hungarian billionaire whose donations to liberal and progressive causes have made his name a shorthand for foreign money in American politics and even, in unscrupulous parts of the right-wing media ecosystem, a dogwhistle to the sliver of the GOP base that holds deeply antisemitic views. Tactically passing off opposition research to sympathetic media outlets is a standard practice of political campaign operations, corporations, and anyone else in Washington with a vested interest in making someone look bad.
But aside from its potential for reputation harm in the eyes of political operatives, this email—which is, to be clear, nothing more than a law student plugging a simple event on behalf of the people who graciously awarded him a scholarship—also gives us a point on the timeline of one of Ramaswamy’s many hypocrisies.
While the scholarship Ramaswamy benefited from and plugged to other students is intended for immigrants and children of immigrants to the United States, he would probably claim to feel differently about it today. He called the Supreme Court’s recent ban on affirmative action “good for America,” and he vowed to end it in “every sphere of American life” as president.
Mediaite also published a story about Ramaswamy paying to have his Wikipedia page scrubbed of mentions of the Soros fellowship. Ramaswamy’s campaign downplayed the story and insinuated that the Ron DeSantis super PAC, Never Back Down, had fed the information to the reporter as part of an opposition research hit. Ramaswamy’s Wikipedia page now notes that he paid to remove mentions of Soros. Ramaswamy also has a section on his campaign’s “fact check” page dedicated to Soros.