Daniel W. Drezner

When NatSec kids run for office….

When NatSec kids run for office….

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the national security/foreign policy crowd does not think much of the voters.  Oh, sure, we’ll usually praise democracy in the abstract as the best form of government unless it involves an ally in the Middle East — but in practice, nothing causes NatSec types to gripe more than the American people.  In the eyes of foreign policy wonks, the Average American is both uninformed and uninterested in the rest of the world — and the data backs up much of this assessment. 

Because of this disdain, it should not be surprising that most foreign policy wonks do not seek elected office.  They might flirt with the idea, but it usually doesn’t go much beyond that.  NatSec types don’t like pressing the flesh all that much or learning about the minutiae of water policies.  Voters, in turn, don’t tend to believe that someone who’s focused their careers on the rest of the world care all that much about Americans.

I bring all of this up because there’s a small trend that’s worth noting:  some foreign policy/national security folk are actually running for office. 

This started last month when Liz Cheney announced that she was challenging Mike Enzi for the GOP nomination for Senator in Wyoming.  Beyond her familial ties, Cheney’s career of government service was at USAID and the State Department, where she was a DAS (deputy assistant secretary) for Near Eastern Affairs.  True, the campaign hasn’t started off well, but even her critics acknowledge that she’s going to stick it out until the primary. 

This week saw two other NatSec types migrating towards the campaign trail.  In Massachusetts, Juliette Kayyem has decided to run for governor

Juliette N. Kayyem , a former Obama administration homeland security official and a Democrat, became Wednesday the first woman to jump into the 2014 governor’s race.

Kayyem, 44, who worked as a columnist for the Boston Globe editorial page for two years before resigning this week, announced her candidacy to succeed Governor Deval Patrick in a professionally shot web video.

Though her expertise is in homeland security issues, Kayyem said she will fashion her campaign around broad themes, on helping Massachusetts get ready for the future in areas such as education, technology, and the environment.

“It’s really about not wishing for the past, not thinking about what might have been, but how Massachusetts should be and preparing for that,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “And that’s what I’ve done all my career.”

Kayyem, a former assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama, added that she had “managed and led in really difficult circumstances.” She cited, among other examples, her work helping to organize the response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

To complete the trifecta, National Review‘s Robert Costa reports that another former Bush administration official is thinking of running for office.  The Big Office.  In 2016:

How serious is John Bolton about potentially running for president? He’s about to start hiring for his political operation.

The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and conservative star is ready to hit the road, play in the 2014 midterm elections, and flesh out his domestic-policy views —including his support for gay marriage — in preparation for throwing his hat in the ring in 2016….

[His] life, this plush political winter, isn’t enough for Bolton, who’s best known for his controversial tenure at Turtle Bay during George W. Bush’s administration. He wants to be president of the United States, or, at the very least, a provocative contender for the Republican nomination in 2016. “My hypothesis is that voters are practical and they care more about national security than the media seems to believe; I think, right now, especially after two terms of President Obama, they want a president who has the know-how to lead during a crisis, a president who can defend our national interests,” he says.

When I mention that such a bid, however well intentioned, would be fraught with difficulty, Bolton immediately acknowledges that the idea of a run sounds fanciful — even to his wife and daughter, who have expressed their own reservations. “It’d maybe be a little unorthodox,” he admits. And until now, he has kept quiet about his brewing plan, so as not to invite scorn from his critics until he gets his political shop up and running. But these days, he thinks about it nearly daily, and the prospect excites him more than any other project has since his time at the U.N. Soon enough, he says, he’ll be talking more about it at rubber-chicken dinners, so now’s as fitting a time as any to be more candid.

To be clear, your humble blogger is not endorsing any of these people for anything — though, for the sake of the blog, I can only hope that Bolton ain’t bluffing.  To be even more clear, I don’t know much about Kayyem, don’t like much about Bolton, and don’t think much of Cheney

That said, I really do admire the willingness of all of them to enter the political fray — a prospect that gives me hives just contemplating hypothetically.  As Costa noted, Bolton has some pretty sweet gigs — Fox News contributor, paid speech-giver, think tank fellow, and lawyer.  Kayyem and Cheney had similar profiles as "formers," as Mark Leibovich described it in This Town.  It’s easy to get comfortable in that rarefied life — and they’re voluntarily exiting that bubble to pursue offices where their probability of winning ranges from fair to middlin’ to no chance in hell.

Going forward, one wonders if this is the harbinger of more NatSec types running for office.  There’s already been a boomlet of former soldiers entering the political fray.  The expansion of the national security state over the past decade has expanded the pool of potential candidates.  It would be good to see more foreign policy wonks learn about the rigors of the campaign trail.