It’s hard to remember through the fog of constant war, but the 2008 presidential election was a contest between two candidates who were propelled into their nominations by the anti-war vote.
Barack Obama, we remember. He was the one who opposed the Iraq war in real time, campaigned on that stance daily, and benefited from the pent-up passion of that once huge but now nearly extinct tribe known as the anti-war left. As the Iraq war and President George W. Bush each became less popular by the day, Obama became the conduit for people frustrated by the foreign policy status quo.
John McCain was arguably the most interventionist major-party nominee in several generations; in 1998 he authored the idea of “rogue-state rollback,” whereby the U.S. would fund anti-dictator insurgents all over the globe and come to their defense militarily should the authoritarian regimes gain the upper hand. But he nonetheless received a plurality of the anti-war vote—roughly double that of a principled noninterventionist, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas)—during the crucial early-state GOP primaries that sealed his nomination. Such was his original reputation as a media-friendly “maverick” that journalists and voters alike assumed the guy they liked so much couldn’t possibly be in favor of constant pre-emptive war.