What is the future of the Republican Party? What will the Right look like in 2024? What lasting impact will Donald Trump have on the future of the party? Who will succeed Donald Trump as the Grand Old Party’s standard bearer? Will the party return to its past stances on smaller-government, or will Republicans continue to express support and belief in big government?
All these questions and more will not be answered anytime soon, but two things are for sure. First, confronting China will play a major role in the party’s platform for the foreseeable future. Second, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas will play a major part in setting that platform, if not leading the party himself.
Senator Cotton was one of the first policymakers to see the coronavirus threat for what it was before anyone else took it seriously. In January, Cotton was providing glaring warnings of the seriousness of COVID-19, and was actively encouraging the Trump Administration to take necessary steps to prevent the virus from becoming a pandemic, writing in a letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, “I urge the Department of Health and Human Services to carefully vet any information being passed from its contacts in Beijing” adding later in the letter that, “Measures such as screening all travelers from the People’s Republic of China, and if necessary, banning entry to those traveling from China must be contemplated and prepared in order to keep Americans safe.”
President Trump did ultimately ban travel from China on January 31, and although it did not go as far as Senator Cotton would have liked, it has become the primary defense from the president when discussing his handling of the pandemic.
In February, the Arkansas senator raised the possibility that the coronavirus could have started in a lab in Wuhan, China, and was accused by the Washington Post of “fanning the embers of a conspiracy theory that has been repeatedly debunked by experts.” However, two months later, the same Washington Post that accused Cotton of being a conspiracy theorist admitted that he might have been right, with Josh Rogin reporting that two years prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus, the United States Embassy in China had sent cables to Foggy Bottom warning of “inadequate safety at the lab, which was conducting risky studies on coronavirus from bats” and then “warned about safety and management weaknesses at the WIV lab and proposed more attention and help.”
Senator Cotton did not stop with just warnings. Over the last three months, he has introduced legislation with Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin to end American dependence on China for pharmaceutical manufacturing, introduced legislation with Representative Dan Crenshaw of Texas which would allow Americans to sue China for damages related to the coronavirus, and suggested that the United States should “take a very hard look at” the types of visas the United States gives out to Chinese nationals studying inside the United States, telling Maria Bartiromo on Fox News, “If Chinese students want to come here and study Shakespeare and the Federalist Papers, that’s what they need to learn from America. They don’t need to learn quantum computing and artificial intelligence from America.”
Senator Cotton is not the only major Republican to have voiced criticism and called for tougher measures when it comes to China. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, another potential candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024, has also introduced legislation allowing for Americans affected by the coronavirus to sue China and which would also “create the Justice for Victims of Coronavirus Task Force at the State Department to launch an international investigation into Beijing’s handling of the COVID-19 outbreak and to secure compensation from the Chinese government.” Senator Hawley, along with Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, introduced a resolution calling for an international investigation into China’s handling of COVID-19. Hawley has also cosponsored the “Li Wenliang Global Health Public Accountability Act” with Tom Cotton that “would authorize the president to sanction foreign officials who suppress or distort information about international public health crises.”
Other potential candidates for the Republican Party’s nomination in 2024 have also voiced criticism of China. Florida Senator Marco Rubio has a bill that would force certain Chinese companies who trade in U.S. stock markets to abide by American accounting rules or be delisted. Former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley recently created a new group called “Stop Communist China” whose main goal is to “stop the Chinese Communist government’s deception and manipulation.”
Despite this, none of these potential candidates have as much of a leg up on the China issue than does Senator Cotton. As Burgess Everett wrote in his profile of Tom Cotton for Politico, “[W]ith a series of ambitious Republican senators and governors beginning to maneuver to succeed Trump in 2024, Cotton is front and center in the debate over the GOP’s future. His emergence as the party’s fiercest China hawk could position him well regardless of Trump’s fate in November.”
The future of the Republican Party is uncertain, but following the actions taken by policymakers like Senator Cotton is a good place to go to have some idea of the GOP’s future. Four years is a long time, but as the old saying goes, “The early bird catches the worm.” Whatever the worm is, leaders like Cotton have a good jump on catching it.