Politicians don’t enjoy it, but most change positions at least once in their careers. Then there’s Tom Cotton. From restricting legal and illegal immigration to hawkish foreign policy to criticizing the nation’s “under-incarceration” of criminals, the Arkansas senator keeps staking out hardline positions in anticipation that fellow Republicans will come to him. As small-government as they come on every issue other than national security, Cotton is a 1980s throwback — mentioning former President Ronald Reagan 10 times in a lengthy interview with POLITICO.
And he sees his rigidity as a feature, not a bug of his brand of immovable politics. “I have strong opinions … And I stick to those views, not till I feel vindicated, until I am vindicated on the facts, as I have been on almost every point,” Cotton said when asked if he feels redeemed by his steadfast views. “It’s not a matter of ‘I feel vindicated.’ It’s a matter that I have been vindicated.”
Cotton doesn’t say “no” when asked if he’s planning to run for president in 2024. And for a party still reeling from the peripatetic ideology of Donald Trump, Cotton could offer a predictable alternative: He builds few bridges to Democrats and isn’t afraid of clobbering Republicans, either.
He talks regularly with Trump but isn’t begging for a third campaign from the former president either: “That’s a decision that he will make, as well as everyone else.”“We have an election right in front of us that’s highly consequential. So I’ll get beyond that election before I start thinking about any future elections,” Cotton said. It’s an understatement to say Cotton is a polarizing force in American politics. Just ask mild-mannered Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who angrily replied to Cotton’s criticisms that the Democratic Party is “conciliatory” toward Russia: “That dog won’t hunt.”
“Accusing me and other Democrats wholesale of being soft on Putin and Russia is just wrong. And it’s not something he or anybody else ought to be doing,” Shaheen said in an interview. Since their confrontation, she added, “he hasn’t done it to me.”Cotton was once the youngest member of the Senate, and after more than seven years in the chamber he’s still the third-youngest at 45. Barely two months into his tenure, Cotton upended global foreign policy with a letter to Iran’s leaders informing them that any nuclear agreement with then-President Barack Obama could later be voided by the next commander-in-chief. He served two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and defeated incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) by a whopping 17 points in 2014. His favorite food is birthday cake. His favorite phrase to use with reporters is “no comment.”
Cotton said he’s committed to continuing to provide Ukraine with money from Congress, even if Republicans take back the Senate majority. But questions about Biden’s Ukraine policies — which have been praised by some Republicans — elicit a lengthy diatribe about the president: “He’s been terrible in Ukraine. The Ukrainian war is a massive failure of deterrence. And it is primarily Joe Biden who failed to lead the Western response in the lead-up to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.”