In military circles, Sen. Tommy Tuberville does not appear to be an especially popular person. It was, after all, just this week when the secretary of the Navy told a national television audience that the Alabama Republican is “aiding and abetting communists and other autocratic regimes around the world.”
And while that was one of the more aggressive rhetorical responses to the right-wing senator’s blockade on military promotions, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro is hardly the only furious member of the military community. As regular readers know, Tuberville’s efforts have also been condemned by every living former Defense secretary. And retired military leaders. And veterans. And congressional Democrats. And the White House. And military spouses. And his own Republican colleagues. And a majority of people living in Alabama. And a surprising number of currently serving military leaders.
But the Alabaman can take some solace in the fact that some Republican presidential candidates are on his side, even as he undermines his own country’s armed services.
In July, for example, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis defended Tuberville’s radical blockade, accusing the military of “funding abortion tourism.” The governor’s rhetoric was wildly misleading — the Pentagon’s policy provides troops with travel reimbursements, but public funds are not used to pay for abortions — though DeSantis didn’t seem to care.
“What I would say, if I was working in Washington, D.C., is I’d look across the Potomac at the Pentagon and I would say, ‘This could all be over tomorrow if you just stop undermining state pro-life laws. Look, we don’t need the Pentagon, under the Biden administration, working to end-run, provide support for people to essentially travel across state lines for abortions.”
Pence added, in apparent reference to Tuberville’s policy, “All that can be over tomorrow if the Pentagon would just stand down on attempting to push a liberal social agenda.”
It’d be an overstatement to suggest all of the GOP presidential hopefuls are on board with the Alabama senator’s blockade. Former Ambassador Nikki Haley, for example, said last month that while she agrees with Tuberville’s policy goals, she disagrees with the impact his tactics are having on the military.
Donald Trump, meanwhile, was also asked for his thoughts on Tuberville’s blockade, and the former president responded, “He is doing his thing right now, and he has the courage to at least speak up for his convictions. People agree and don’t agree.”
Trump isn’t great at dodging questions, but he apparently didn’t want to get too close to his allied senator on this one.
But it was Pence’s argument that stood out for me. To hear the former vice president tell it, Tuberville would release his hostages if the Pentagon would agree to pay the ransom. For Pence, it’s a simple proposition: Simply take away benefits from active-duty troops, at which point the Alabama Republican would stop trying to undermine his own country’s military.
There are, however, a couple of important problems with this.
The first is that this isn’t how policymaking is supposed to work in mature and advanced democracies. Rewarding Tuberville for undermining the armed forces would only encourage others to do the same thing. The solution isn’t for the military to, as Pence put it, “stand down”; the solution is for Alabama’s senior senator to end his dangerous tantrum.
The second problem is that Pence might very well be wrong about Tuberville’s plans. To hear the former vice president tell it, as soon as the Pentagon ends the travel-reimbursement policy, the senator will stop hurting the armed forces. But Tuberville’s position has evolved in recent months, and as recently as two weeks ago, the Alabaman wasn’t just targeting the travel-reimbursement policy — he was also targeting U.S. military leaders themselves.
Ideally, national GOP voices would use their platforms to encourage the senator to be more responsible. Rhetoric like Pence’s and DeSantis’ will, however, only prolong the problem.