James Wigderson begins with something that came up at last week’s U.S. Senate Republican debate:
… we have to address [Kevin] Nicholson saying that his service in Iraq and Afghanistan is all the conservative credentials anyone should ever need from him. He’s not the first to make that statement on his behalf.
I have said before and I still believe that Nicholson has an interesting story when he says his military experience contributed to his becoming a conservative. But while that may be his personal story, it’s certainly not the story of every person who has served in the military. For example, my father-in-law served in the Marines and is very proud of his service, and our whole family is proud of him. But his service in the Marines doesn’t change the fact that my father-in-law has never voted for a Republican, and he won’t be voting for Nicholson, either.
We can run down the list. Does former Secretary of State John Kerry’s service in Vietnam exempt him from conservative criticism going forward? Because it never has in the past. Former Vice President Al Gore was in Vietnam, too. George McGovern, the liberal icon, fought in World War II. President Jimmy Carter served in the Navy on submarines. Walter Mondale was in the Army. And so on.
So when Nicholson tells the story of his military service, we can draw all sorts of conclusions about his character but it’s not proof of a political philosophy.
… followed by Christian Schneider:
“I’m going to be blunt,” Republican U.S. Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson said near the end of a debate with GOP opponent Leah Vukmir last week. “For those who have said that leading Marines in combat in two wars does not qualify as conservative credentials need to look inside them and decide what they think conservative credentials are.”
Pursuant to Nicholson’s instructions, I have looked deep inside myself to determine what a “conservative credential” is. And leading Marines in combat isn’t one.
In fact, serving in the military isn’t “conservative” or “liberal” at all. Both Democrats and Republicans serve bravely and honorably, and neither ideology has a monopoly on claiming patriotism and bravery on the battlefield.
Take, for example, Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who in 2004 lost both legs and suffered a badly damaged arm when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the Black Hawk helicopter she was flying in Iraq. Or late Hawaiian Senator Daniel Inouye, who was a medical volunteer during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and lost his right arm to a grenade in World War II. Clearly, one can serve with distinction in the military and still be a reliable progressive vote in public office.
Nicholson is trying to use his laudable military service as a stand-in for conservative credentials because he has so few Republican achievements. He has made no secret of the fact that he is a former Democrat, having served as head of the College Democrats of America and even addressing the 2000 Democratic National Convention in support of Vice President Al Gore’s presidential candidacy.
There’s nothing wrong with switching parties — Republican icon Ronald Reagan spent most of his life as a Democrat, as did Donald Trump. In fact, if Republicans want to return to a majority party in America, they’re going to need a lot more party-flippers.
But if Nicholson wants to convince Republican primary voters he believes in lower taxes, less regulation and the sanctity of life, he’s going to have to do more than cite his service in the Marines. As Vukmir said during the debate, while she respected his military service, the public knows more about his time as a Democrat than “his track record as a Republican.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean that military service tells us nothing about a candidate. It can demonstrate discipline, leadership, and tenacity. It can be a sign that you can hold a position where your fellow soldiers’ lives are on the line, and it can signal toughness, dedication, and morality. (In contrast, President Trump eluded service in Vietnam by producing a doctor’s letter saying he had bone spurs in his heels and later would claim that avoiding sexually transmitted diseases while dating “is my personal Vietnam” and that he felt like a “great and very brave soldier.”)
If one discounts military service as an indication of “conservatism,” we are left to ascertain Nicholson’s dedication to the cause by what he actually says. And for the most part, he’s got an easy, appealing style that shows he understands the issues Republicans care about the most.
But as a representative of the Trump wing of the party, Nicholson sometimes strains to offer differences between himself and the established conservative, Vukmir. At one point during last week’s debate, Nicholson blamed Vukmir’s type of conservatism for a big liberal Supreme Court win a few weeks ago. Keep in mind, it was Vukmir’s brand of conservatism (aligned primarily with Republican Gov. Scott Walker) that led to Walker having won three elections and Republicans holding historical majorities in the state Senate and Assembly. The big losses in Wisconsin only started happening when Donald Trump was picked to head the Republican Party at the national level.
Yet the lure of Trumpism has led both GOP Senate candidates to take decidedly un-conservative positions. At the debate, both Vukmir and Nicholson lauded Trump’s decision to raise tariffs on China, which could trigger a trade war and significantly increase the cost of goods produced by Wisconsin’s farmers and manufacturers. While “sticking it to” other countries through protectionist trade policy might be a rhetorical winner in Trump country, it’s hard to believe it’s being taken seriously in a Republican Senate primary.
Through his military service, Nicholson has shown he’s brave enough to take on America’s enemies in a war overseas. If he wanted to burnish his conservative credentials for primary voters, he should now show he’s brave enough to stand up to a public opinion poll on trade.
It would be safe to say that military service is more important to Republican-leaning voters than Democrat-leaning voters. There has not been a Democratic nominee for president with military service since Michael Dukakis, and I bet most voters didn’t even know that Dukakis had served in the Army.
To Wigderson’s and Schneider’s points about Democrats who go from the military to politics, CNN reports:
Wisconsin GOP Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson said in a radio interview on Wednesday that he questions the “cognitive thought process” of veterans who vote Democratic, arguing that their military service contradicts their political views.
Asked by host Steve Scaffidi on the local station WTMJ about Republican primary opponent Leah Vukmir’s suggestion that her record as a Republican state senator should mean more to conservative voters than his military experience, Nicholson argued that to serve in the military is fundamentally conservative.
“And just because some people that don’t call themselves conservatives and don’t always act conservative do something conservative — like, let’s talk about John Kerry — and signed up to serve this country, that doesn’t mean that that’s not a conservative thing to fundamentally protect and defend the Constitution,” Nicholson said. “Because I’ll tell you, the Democrat party has wholesale rejected the Constitution and the values that it was founded upon. So I’ll tell you what: Those veterans that are out there in the Democrat party, I question their cognitive thought process because the bottom line is, they’re signing up to defend the Constitution that their party is continually dragging through the mud.”
Nicholson’s military service has been a focal point of his campaign to be the GOP nominee to unseat Democratic incumbent Tammy Baldwin in November, as has his journey from being a member of the Democratic Party as a younger man to becoming a Republican. Nicholson was president of the College Democrats of America and spoke at the 2000 Democratic National Convention. He later joined the Marines and told Politico in September 2017 that his deployment to Iraq in 2007 was key to changing his political views, saying he was “livid” with Democrats for calling the war a failure.
Nicholson campaign spokesman Brandon Moody elaborated on the candidate’s remarks in an email to CNN’s KFile.
“Kevin made clear that all members of the military – regardless of their political party – sign up to defend and protect the Constitution and its principles,” he said. “But Kevin also believes that the Democrat Party has become unmoored from the Constitution and has lost its way. Kevin left the Democrat Party years ago and became a conservative, in part, because liberal Democrats and the policies they promote have shown overt disrespect to our veterans.”
CNN’s KFile reported in February that both Nicholson’s mother and father donated the legal maximum to Baldwin’s primary campaign in December.
Nicholson must have some interesting family reunions.
I didn’t vote for McGovern, because (1) I was 7 at the time and (2) as I’ve said before McGovern was rumored to be sending us children to school on Saturdays had he been elected president in 1972. I did not vote for Gore or Kerry, nor would I.
Kerry particularly earned Hypocrite First Class when 25 years after doing this …
… he dared to do this:
Reporting for duty? What an affront to every veteran.
As someone who didn’t serve (do you want someone with 20/400 vision defending your country?), I can’t say if being in the military gives you “conservative values,” but I have to wonder myself why veterans would become Democrats. Barack Obama’s Iran surrender — I mean treaty — made this country safer in absolutely no sense. Swearing to uphold the Constitution is inconsistent with working to gut the Second Amendment. The Democratic Party’s values include identification by every unimportant measurement — the _____–American — which clearly is not reflected in the military ethos.
There is an Assembly candidate in Northwest Wisconsin who touts his military experience. On the other hand, he’s also a social worker, and I would argue the latter cancels out the former in an ideological sense in his case.
A military background might be a plus, but I am not voting for any voting candidate based on his or her military service, or lack thereof. My votes are based on the candidates’ positions and that candidate’s electability. Recall that William F. Buckley Jr. counseled voting for the most conservative candidate who could win.