For those who are keeping an eye on Virginia politics, former Governor Jim Gilmore is a man of many talents. While his greatest honorific — at least among Virginians — will be his term as governor during 9/11, Gilmore’s public service extends to filling a role as RNC Chairman as well as his recent service as Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
At present, Gilmore enjoys the position of being one of the leading conservative thought leaders on US foreign policy and continues to be highly praised among Virginia Republicans for his “no car tax” pledge and his firm Second Amendment advocacy while governor. Gilmore graciously agreed to be interviewed by TRS at his home in Richmond.
TRS: One of the major topics that you are consistently asked about are conditions in Ukraine, specifically with regards to NATO and US involvement. Why are the stakes so high and why should the United States continue its involvement in a conflict half a world away?
Gilmore: The stakes are high because we have to look at the long run. This is the next step in Putin’s attempt to reassemble the old Soviet Empire. Based on my experience as ambassador at OSCE, the danger is to put Europe in the sphere of influence of Russia. The effort would be to reacquire the old Soviet republics, and the people over there know it, and to combine with the Chinese in an attempt to create a worldwide culture of tyranny. Of course, this fits the American isolationist reaction to draw in and allow that to happen, which astounds me with regard to how the United States reacted to the Second World War.
If the Russians are able to demonstrate that they can conquer Ukraine through coercion and war crimes, they will be an example to Europe, and as a consequence Europe will be less inclined to cooperate with the United States.
Secondly, should the Russians be successful, that will be a lesson to the Chinese that force, coercion and war crimes can work. I would remind folks that atrocities are already underway in China with the Uighurs. If the Chinese launch a war against Taiwan, we are left with another difficult choice, and if the United States does not assert dominance, then the Russians and Chinese are well on their way to dominating Eastern Europe and the Western Pacific.
At the end of the day the question in Ukraine isn’t just about the independence and liberty of the Ukrainian people, but America’s safety and our principles – it is America’s safety that is in jeopardy in the long run.
TRS: And this has geopolitical consequences in the long run — yes?
Gilmore: America has never allowed Europe or the Pacific to be dominated by a hostile power, and certainly never allowed both to be dominated by hostile powers at the same time. That is a serious danger to the safety and security of the United States.
The result would be that if the Ukrainian war goes wrong, sooner or later we are going to be confronted with that circumstance, and if that happens then we will be fighting a third world war – one we might not win. So that means, as usual, the fate of America is the fate of mankind. That matter is certainly more serious than sending the billions of dollars in aid to Kyiv.
Note that the Chinese ambassador to France tipped his hand and said that the former Soviet republics had no foundation in legality. A gaffe for certain. Most diplomacy is a poker game. So is it a gaffe? Certainly, but is it just his weird thinking? Absolutely not. I didn’t behave like that. <laughter> Yet it is clear that there are conversations along those lines, and they will most likely pull that ambassador in order to hide that card again.
By the way, the reaction to it has been exactly as we would have all expected. These are sovereign countries over there, and we want them to be sovereign countries over there. I met with the Ukrainian ambassador every week at OSCE. Why would we do that if they are not a sovereign country? I did not meet with the Russian ambassador because I did not want to send the signal that we condoned the annexation of Crimea. We have all these Eastern European counties, and they have no inclination or identity being part of some Soviet Empire.
The stakes are incredibly high, and the future of the world depends on the answer. But we are very lucky, you see. We aren’t injecting American soldiers like in Vietnam. The consequences of failure are that other places in the world will throw in with other leaders in the absence of US leadership, and that’s not in the American interest.
TRS: So it somewhat strikes me with the domination of Europe and the Western Pacific that we are back to the same strategic problem we were facing during the Second World War.
Back then, America was isolationist, and we got into the Second World War late. If Hitler had not invaded Russia, we probably would not have won. The Japanese pulled us into that war. Isolationism — the consequences of isolationism — were obvious with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and then we went to war.
Of course, I am speaking a very tough foreign policy line, but I am committed to averting a much larger war. You can see it, it’s on the horizon, and it can be averted in the Ukraine and we might never have that war.
TRS: Would you say that to some degree, this is preserving the post-Cold War peace fought for and earned by Ronald Reagan?
Gilmore: That’s absolutely right. This is Ronald Reagan foreign policy — that’s what I’m talking about and that’s where I am.
There’s a book that I have read, and a fellow I have gotten to know by the name of Henry Nau, formerly at George Washington University entitled Conservative Internationalism, and that’s the closest thing to a good foreign policy that I have yet seen.
Yet isolationism is not the answer. By the way, I wrote an article on this in National Review a few months ago. The 1994 Budapest Memorandum was a guarantee of the territorial integrity of Ukraine by the United States, United Kingdom, and the Russian Federation. The real danger there was nuclear proliferation, but the point was to send a message that we are not going to tolerate the annexation of other countries by force.
At this point, the Budapest Memorandum is a relic of history. We have much more important issues facing us than that.
TRS: Switching over to Virginia politics, you have been doing an awful lot of work on behalf of Republican candidates. What do you think our odds are of taking back the Virginia Senate in 2023 while maintaining the majority in the House of Delegates?
Gilmore: The truth is we don’t know, because redistricting has scrambled all of the districts, so we don’t know how it is going to come out. Now for professionals, they can do the research and create some sort of matrix to determine what the likelihood is, but I haven’t done that. I know that we have many new candidates in both parties, and we just don’t know how it is going to come out.
The two elements that have to be watched are the enormous amount of money on the left that feeds into Virginia and national politics — there’s an enormous amount of wealth that is feeding the progressives — and specifically while I do not know Michael Bills from Charlottesville, he and his wife are putting a lot of money into liberal candidates, and they can be at least competitive if not dominant.
The alternative is Governor Youngkin and his PAC, and by all indicators he seems to be the balancer. Bills isn’t the only wealthy Democrat helping on the left, but the key supporter financially of the Republicans is Youngkin. I’m aware of a few House and Senate PACs, but I don’t know if they will tip the scales. That’s a long way of saying “I don’t know” but once the money is equal, then we can get to issues — but we don’t know how that will work out either.
It is clear that the left will focus on the abortion issue, while the right will focus on the culture wars that helped Youngkin get elected. Plus we have other issues that may come to the fore that we don’t know about. That debate will still have to come out this year.
TRS: You mentioned earlier you were working on a book which encapsulates a serious-minded foreign policy approach for America in the 21st century.
Gilmore: The global geopolitical situation is much worse than people think it is. There is good news though is that in the very long run, we win and the world does too. I think that’s why Xi and Putin are moving now, because the endgame does not favor them. If they are going to prevail with their theory of what the world should look like, they have to move soon. Putin has already moved.
If we don’t play this right, we will be in a third world war to decide the future of mankind, and that will be a 50/50 proposition. But if we act now, we can stop that war.
There are two aspects of American foreign policy.
The first is the one that Americans always focus on, and that is America’s safety and security. That lends itself to America’s predisposition towards isolationism. If we make a mistake in Ukraine, we threaten Eastern Europe and the Western Pacific, which is a threat to our national security.
But there is a second piece, and usually it is offered as an alternative view of the world. I don’t see it as an alternative. The second part is America’s values and principles and our role as a beacon of liberty and a leader in the struggle for human rights. This is more powerful than Americans appreciate. It is a central piece of our soft power.
The people of the world want freedom, they want liberty. They want the ability to run their own lives and not live under the threat of a knock on the door in the middle of the night. We have all seen this. It was the very essence of the OSCE and what collapsed the Soviet Union. The world is hungry for it, and this second aspect of America is really the more powerful of the two. A submarine is powerful, but our ideas are so much more powerful, and that’s why we will win.
Our adversaries know this; the Chinese and Russians know this. They have a different idea how they can do it their way, where they can kidnap journalists and hold Americans hostages, where they can take children hostage because they draw political cartoons.
Why wouldn’t they think they can do it? They are doing it in Hong Kong, they are doing it with the Uyghurs, they think they can do it in Taiwan. The biggest reason is because they are afraid of Chinese democracy, which is what Taiwan represents, but ultimately, they are fighting against an inherent determination in human beings to be free. The Chinese know they are on borrowed time, which is why they have to act soon or else they will collapse. So does Putin. We saw it happen in 1991 in Russia, with thousands and thousands of people in Red Square who did not want to return to Soviet Communism.
These are the best two examples. The rest of the world understands this link between our national security interest and America’s role as a beacon of liberty. This is what people admire in Americans. If America chooses to lead, then the rest of the world will have the courage to determine their own futures for themselves. If we do not lead, then the rest of the world may be forced to pitch in with authoritarian regimes. That’s why neo-isolationism is so dangerous, because they don’t see the big game.
TRS: So it is a middle position between hard-nosed realism and internationalism?
Gilmore: Precisely. The people of the world will rally to liberty, but need to know that America has their back. That’s why the conflict in Ukraine is so very important, and why I am engaged in this fight.
TRS: Much of the work you did with the American Opportunity Foundation focused on the importance of building up to an annual 5% GDP growth rate. What do you think the implications of the Biden administration’s spending policy will be in the near and long term?
Gilmore: Nationally, it is clear that Biden has been completely irresponsible with America’s finances. The amount of money that was thrown out the door, and this was along with Chuck Schumer and the rest of them, with all these excuses — COVID, infrastructure, all this stuff — ending up by the way with the very humorous anti-inflationary program, which was incredibly inflationary, all designed to redistribute money along socialist lines.
The result was of course foreseeable, and that was inflation. You can’t inject trillions of dollars into the American economy and not expect the sort of inflation we are seeing today. The problem is that they relied upon the Federal Reserve to fix it, but the Fed only have a couple of things it can do. If the Fed is going to block inflation, they are going to raise interest rates. The result of that stops inflation, but it also kicks off a recession which drives people out of work, where they rely upon the social welfare state, and it becomes a vicious cycle.
So we are in a lot of trouble because of what Biden has done, and he has done this with the complete support of the Democratic Party. These are the sort of policies we have as a result of the people we have elected.
TRS: This gets back to an earlier theory that so long as the United States remains the world’s reserve currency, we can simply print money without much consequence — yes?
Gilmore: There is a book called The Deficit Myth written by Stephanie Kelton who was on Senate Finance, whose modern monetary theory is to simply print money because the United States is the world’s reserve currency. The Democrats believe they can do just about anything they want, even bring the Great Society into fruition, without consequences.
Senators Kaine and Warner are loyal votes for Biden’s spending policies. Unfortunately, there are consequences that impact working class people. At some point, we are going to have to address this.
TRS: Do you have any strong thoughts on increasing the federal debt ceiling?
Gilmore: The debt ceiling is going to come up at some point. The problem is that we simply cannot default on our debt.
Now Senator Tim Kaine has argued that we just need to take the debt ceiling off, but the problem with that is that it removes the checkpoint, a stopping point where we begin to have the discussion again, and that’s what Speaker McCarthy is doing now by forcing the conversation.
If you followed Kaine’s proposal, you would never have the discussion at all. This doesn’t mean that we can default. We can’t. But we can go back and have the discussion and at least focus on the messaging, and this is important.
TRS: How do you think Virginia is doing with regards to tax reform? Certainly, Governor Youngkin has made this a priority for his administration in Richmond.
Gilmore: Let’s talk about Virginia for a moment. As we speak, Youngkin wants to do some tax cuts, and I strongly support him on that. What we need to be doing is persuading Virginians that tax cuts are a good idea. Now I did that when I ran on the car tax cut. Everybody thought that was a good idea, especially the African-American community, and they still do!
We need to persuade the people of Virginia that tax cuts are a good idea. We did that with the car tax cuts. Unfortunately, they froze the car tax cut and what has happened is that people are paying more and more on personal property which they cannot afford. With all the money we have today, we could certainly do it, but we could at least go back to the principle of phasing out the car tax once and for all. Once you get to 100%, you could start with genuine tax reform where we could reimburse localities.
TRS: Of course, one of the more serious objections to eliminating the car tax altogether is that localities rely on that funding formula. Nobody seems to like the car tax, but getting rid of it altogether seems to be a threshold no one wants to cross. What would the replacement for the car tax be?
Gilmore: Revenue sharing. At that rate, the localities would get a stream of revenue for things they can count on such as public safety and education. Maybe we could review what responsibilities localities should shoulder and what the state responsibilities are.
That’s the sort of conversation we should be having, but we can only have it if we keep our promise to end the car tax.
If we don’t fix this, the rebate to the public will deliberately go to 0%. Governor Warner and the Virginia Senate, led by Republicans, deliberately changed the phase out rules to slowly reinstate the car tax.
So I would do what we promised to do: end the car tax and then focus on true tax reform. That’s my view.
Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.