When Sen. Tim Scott (R–S.C.), a comparatively affable chap in the context of contemporary GOP politics, announced his 2024 presidential bid on Monday, the speech was predictably full of the upbeat, anecdotal, ain’t-America-grand stuff that Scott, like generations of Republicans before him, has made central to his political career.
Then things suddenly turned dark.
“When I am president, the drug cartels using Chinese labs and Mexican factories to kill Americans will cease to exist,” Scott vowed. “I will freeze their assets, I will build the wall, and I will allow the world’s greatest military to fight these terrorists. Because that’s exactly what they are.”
Scott’s bellicosity was no mere bolt from the blue. As Reason has been documenting for six years now, Republicans, even while otherwise souring on U.S interventionism abroad, have increasingly concluded that the alarming spike in domestic fentanyl overdoses would best be treated by sending the military into Mexico.
Donald Trump first floated the idea, while he was president, of designating drug cartels as terrorist organizations—thereby allowing for extraterritorial prosecutions, enhanced investigative powers, and increased penalties for domestic drug-related crimes—in March 2019, but held off after the government of Mexico repeatedly objected on grounds of sovereignty while making uncooperative noises about transnational migration policy.
But the appetite for corralling cartels into the otherwise-unpopular war on terror was only beginning to rumble in the conservative belly. Trump himself in the summer of 2020 twice asked then–Defense Secretary Mark Esper whether “we could just shoot some Patriot missiles and take out the labs, quietly,” according to Esper’s 2022 memoir. Notable MAGA politicians Sen. J.D. Vance (R–Ohio) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R–Ga.) have both suggested violent interdiction south of the border, as have a bevy of more traditional hawks. There are a handful of escalatory bills bouncing around Congress.
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