For better or worse (worse!), meet Tom Cotton

    It’s my sad duty to inform you that the guy who wrote the letter to Iran, the treacherous Republican letter that seeks to undercut our negotiators and blow up a nuclear deal, is a guy who will be plaguing Washington for a long time. For better or worse (OK, worse), meet Tom Cotton.

    If earlier this week you were wondering who the heck he was, here’s the short answer: He looks like Norman Bates, but he’s twice as scary.

    Cotton is a neoconservative wet dream. If right-wingers could input their fantasy candidate credentials into a computer, he’d be the printout. He’s a military vet and a Harvard grad. With just eight weeks of Senate experience under his belt at age 37, he’s already being groomed by his fellow ideologues – and by conservative donors – for the top job.

    He sees himself as a man of destiny. He says things like, “National officeholders have an enlarged ambition and mental acuity that distinguishes themselves from all other sorts of men.” If the GOP loses the presidential race in 2016, put money on this guy running in ’20. Karl Rove calls him “a rock star candidate,” which should tell you plenty.

    Cotton’s letter to Iran rings true when you know his back story. As a retro hawk (“George Bush largely did it right”), southern gent Cotton is Dick Cheney without the snarl. He has called our disastrous Iraq invasion a “just and noble war” (one big reason why neocon maestro Bill Kristol loves him). He has warned, without a shred of evidence, that ISIS is colluding with Mexican cartels to send terrorists across the border to attack Arkansas (“an urgent problem”). He has been described (by the Politico website) as the GOP’s “most aggressive next-generation advocate for military action overseas.”

    I mentioned Bill Kristol. He and Cotton have mind-melded so completely that Kristol says they have “a bond beyond pure policy.” Kristol’s magazine, The Weekly Standard, has spent the last three years seeding Cotton’s career. The mag ran 20 items on Cotton – capped by a lip-locking profile – before the guy even got elected to the House in 2012. Not to be outdone, the conservative National Review mag boosted Cotton’s House candidacy with a six-part series.

    (By the way, ask yourself whether we’d benefit from having a leader who policy-bonds with Kristol, the infamous Iraq war cheerleader whose countless knuckleheaded predictions have become legend. The snarky website Wonkette says that Kristol “has been wrong about so many things in his life that the Smithsonian is opening an entire wing dedicated to his record.”)

    But Cotton’s biggest boost came at the starting gate, when Cotton was vying for the House candidacy in a rural district roughly the size of West Virginia. He was competing against other conservatives, in a GOP primary, when the well-heeled Club for Growth group came to the rescue. They pumped prolific bucks into his campaign; he has fulfilled their expectations as an ardent hater of government – and of the people who need government help).

    In the House, he voted against federal aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy (“I don’t think Arkansas needs to bail out the northeast”). He says food stamps should be cut, because the people receiving that aid “have steaks in their basket” and “a brand-new SUV.” He says the ’13 government shutdown was a good thing – that’s when Republicans turned the lights out, rather than raise the debt ceiling – and he said at the time that it’d be no big deal if Uncle Sam defaulted: “I’d like to take medicine now.”

    You get the picture. He’s less stylistically bellicose than Ted Cruz, more hawkish than Rand Paul, and dearly beloved by the defense industry. This is just too perfect: On Monday this week, Cotton released his letter to Iran; on Tuesday, he delivered an off-the-record breakfast talk to the National Defense Industrial Association – the trade group for defense contractors. Make no mistake, this guy is a comer.

    But the immediate question is why 46 Senate Republicans signed Cotton’s letter last week, why they allowed this right-wing newbie to become the face of the party at this delicate diplomatic moment. John McCain has perhaps the most pathetic explanation: “It was kind of a very rapid process. Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm.”

    How sad it is that, for such feckless reasons, a star is born.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal