The United States needs a strong and vibrant Republican Party. To make a more coherent case for how it would solve the country’s problems, the party will have to clarify its foreign policy focus. Traditional conservative internationalism remains the best way to protect U.S. national security and steward the economy. And voters, in fact, may still be eager for an internationalist foreign policy agenda—if that agenda could be presented to them persuasively. A July 2023 Reagan Institute poll revealed that “strong majorities of Americans believe their country should lead the world, invest in military power, promote international trade, support freedom and democracy, and stand with Ukraine until it wins its war against Russian aggression.” Self-described Trump voters mostly identified as internationalists, not as isolationists, and their support for assisting Ukraine increased by nearly a third—from 50 percent to 64 percent—when the pollster explained how that aid contributed to U.S. security.
Americans, including conservatives, remain what they have always been: reluctant internationalists, but internationalists all the same. They do not respond well to abstract appeals about preserving the “international order.” But they understand that if the world lets China set the rules, U.S. liberties will become less secure, U.S. businesses will be disadvantaged, and U.S. allies will be left vulnerable. Voters do not need Republicans to pander to Trumpism or to polls that suggest soft support for internationalism. They do need Republicans to advance a theory for what is happening in the world and how the party intends to protect the country and secure Americans’ prosperity. No such theory can be developed without a clear foreign policy.