Who's Left to Advise Trump, Now That He's Trashed Everyone?

Senator Susan Collins on Capitol Hill on October 15, 2013. Christopher Preble writes that she is arguably the highest-ranking Republican officeholder to publicly proclaim that she will not support Donald Trump. If Trump wins, who exactly would staff the many defense and foreign policy positions in his administration? Preble asks. Joshua Roberts/reuters

This article first appeared on the Cato Institute site.

The GOP establishment backlash against Donald Trump continues.

On Tuesday night, Senator Susan Collins of Maine became arguably the highest-ranking Republican officeholder to publicly proclaim that she would not support Trump.

Over the weekend, outgoing Republican U.S. Representative Scott Rigell of Virginia declared his support for Gary Johnson and William Weld, two former GOP governors now running on the Libertarian Party ticket.

Another lame-duck Republican, U.S. Representative Richard Hanna of New York, had previously affirmed his support for Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois has also come out against Trump, although he hasn't signaled whom he will be supporting.

On Tuesday, 50 former Republican national security officials piled on, trashing Trump's views. In a scathing letter, the officials warned that Trump "would be the most reckless president in American history" and collectively proclaimed that they would not be voting for him in November.

Trump wasted no time attacking the entire group. He said that the signatories should be blamed "for making the world such a dangerous place" and dismissed them as "nothing more than the failed Washington elite looking to hold on to their power." Indeed, given that Trump has been running against Washington from the very first day of his campaign, he likely welcomes the scorn from these quarters.

This is hardly the first letter opposing Trump on account of his foreign policy views. Bryan McGrath assembled an early #NeverTrump letter here, and, more recently, Ali Wyne drafted a letter signed by mostly academics, 250 and counting, here. It appears that the vast majority of this country's foreign policy experts want no part of the billionaire real estate developer/reality TV star.

If these men and women are true to their word and refuse to support the GOP standard-bearer, it begs a larger question: If Trump wins in spite of this elite opposition, who exactly would staff the many defense and foreign policy positions in a possible Trump administration? It is a question I've been asking myself for months.

As Vox's Zack Beauchamp notes:

Trump is in desperate need of serious policy advisers. His foreign policy team is full of marginalized Russian sycophants. His economic advisory team has more white guys named Steve than it does actual holders of economics PhDs.

Yet Trump's bizarre policy instincts and his loose-cannon approach have alienated the people who could make up a more serious team—the kind of people who signed today's letter.

This is part of why every Trump attempt to reboot and talk seriously about policy is riddled with errors and unnecessary controversy. Not only does Trump himself have an indifferent relationship with the truth, but the people attempting to guide him toward it tend to be the GOP's third-stringers.

We're in uncharted territory. Traditionally, Republicans can be counted upon to support Republicans, and Democrats support Democrats. This is how the revolving door works in Washington.

A few notables manage to straddle the fence, serving in both Republican and Democratic administrations. But, for the most part, senior elected officials draw on a reliable and familiar group within the foreign policy elite.

As noted, Trump has been running against these elites from the get-go, and with obvious good effect. The public senses that the so-called experts have made some pretty egregious errors over the past 15-plus years. Americans are open to new approaches.

They have been for some time; after all, in 2008 they chose relative outsider Barack Obama over establishment insiders Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

Trump's entire campaign has set up a false dichotomy, however. In foreign policy, Trump wants voters to believe that there are only two choices: 1) the people who got us into disasters such as the war in Iraq, and the lesser one in Libya, or 2) the people he listens to.

But the people advising Trump were not prominent opponents of the Iraq War before it started (neither was he, for that matter). If he was listening to any of the most-qualified Iraq War skeptics (for example, here), he likely would have come out in favor of the Iran nuclear deal.

There are alternative voices on foreign policy out there. For example, there are those who have opposed some of America's more foolish wars and who question the need for the United States to be the world's policeman but who don't buy into Trump's fear-mongering isolationism.

They aren't xenophobes and trade protectionists. They don't endorse the use of torture, expect U.S. military personnel to commit war crimes or openly muse about using nuclear weapons. Stephen Walt articulates well the frustrations of this entire class of experts, ignored by Trump but also by Clinton's thoroughly conventional campaign.

We need a debate in this country about America's strategic choices. But by freezing out and discrediting the serious scholars who have been challenging the elite consensus for years, Donald Trump is making it less likely that we will have one.

Christopher Preble is the vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute. He is the author of The Power Problem: How American Military Dominance Makes Us Less Safe, Less Prosperous, and Less Free (Cornell University Press, 2009) and John F. Kennedy and the Missile Gap (Northern Illinois University Press, 2004). He co-edited, with John Mueller, A Dangerous World? Threat Perception and U.S. National Security (Cato Institute, 2014) and, with Jim Harper and Benjamin Friedman, Terrorizing Ourselves: Why U.S. Counterterrorism Policy Is Failing and How to Fix It (Cato Institute, 2010).